May 31, 2009

What I'm Playing - 5.31.09

As my weekend draws to a close, I daresay I really have made the most of least from a relaxation standpoint. I avoided pretty much all things productive over the weekend and managed to keep my time squarely focused on playing games, watching TV and movies, and sleeping. I've also resolved to begin daily posts on the blog again, even if the posts have to be incredibly brief as my available free time trends toward zero. We'll see how my resolution holds over the coming weeks. So here's what I've been playing, mostly over the past few days:
  • Infamous (PS3) - I've been having a blast playing this game. I am a little more than halfway through the game (52% according to my save) and I have to say it's a great, if somewhat repetitive experience. Repetition aside, the gameplay itself is compelling and enjoyable. Whether you are deftly climbing up the side of a building, grinding along power lines, or hurling lighting bolts and electric missiles at a giant trash golem, the game never fails to be exciting to play and dazzling to watch. The game seems to have the most in common with Crackdown and Assassin's Creed, inheriting an unfortunate level of repetition with the latter. While all the main story quests are engaging and exciting, the same cannot be said for all the side missions. Some are great fun, while others leave something to be desired (though opinions may differ on which missions belong to which group), unfortunately the variety is lacking so you will often play the same mission multiple times with in a relatively short span of game time. That being said, the side missions are not required to advance, but some more variety or engaging mission design would have been appreciated. Still, I think the game compares quite favorably with Assassin's Creed in this regard as almost all the missions are more fun than those from AC, plus you're a lightning bolt wielding superhero. So you've got that going for you...In the end I'd say it's a great game that's a real joy to play, but it tastes best in smaller doses where the repetition is less apparent.
  • Fable 2 (X360) - To be honest, I haven't played too much of this this week. I got a bunch of new quests some new areas to explore, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot else for my character to gain at this point. I own an incredible portion of the kingdom, I have yet to find anything that improves weapon or clothing selection, and I've maxed out pretty much every ability I'm interested in. Also, while I like the idea that your skills affect your appearance in theory, in practice I would like my character to be skilled with melee weapons without having to look like a circus strongman, especially considering my character is a woman. Another system I wish had a bit more depth (like maybe your skills give you more freedom in customizing your appearance) but I discussed that at length in my last post. It's still fun to run around Albion and see what there is to see, I just wish it didn't feel like my character was already finished. Maybe I'll find a cool and useful legendary weapon and all will be forgiven. Or maybe some legendary clothes that make me look super sweet. Where are those I ask?
  • Gears of War 2 (X360) - Played this with Rick for a few hours over the weekend sort of on a whim, and we finished my first playthrough (Rick had already beaten the game prior). The ending boss battle is just silly (I smell something that was cut), but on the whole, Gears is loads of fun to play especially co-op. Working with a sibling or best friend to take out a horde of alien mutants all while shouting psuedo-military chatter (and trash talk) back and forth, is an experience not to be missed. Gears of War 2 maybe a bit on the short side, but it's filled with non-stop action and some seriously memorable moments, so I still give it a very high recommendation to any 360 owners.
That's it for now, hopefully I'll have had a chance to play some more before this time next week!

May 30, 2009

My Last Weekend

So, I guess I haven't been doing a great job of the whole "write more on the blog" thing. I'll see what I can do about that...

That being said, it's become clear to me that things are going to get very busy for me very soon. We're closing in on a very important milestone at work and it's clear that there's a lot of work still left to be done. As such, this may be my last full weekend for quite some time, at least the next few weeks if not months. It's not something I'm really upset about, just part of the job really. I do love my weekends though, so I've been trying to make the most of it while I have the chance. I've been playing a lot of Infamous and Fable II and otherwise just enjoying the day.

I also got some boardgames in the mail this week which is super exciting. I haven't bought any boardgames in a while and I love checking out the new rules and nuances of the games (yes, I am that nerdy). I got the new Cosmic Encounter, Small World, Dominion, and a couple of decks for Blue Moon. I've only had the chance to briefly try out Dominion and lunch on Friday, but we had to cut the game short. Dominion seems really solid, pretty straightforward, but with loads of subtle, interesting nuances, and a lot of replayability. I've only looked over the rules of the other two but they seem great as well (Cosmic Encounter is already one of my favorites from a previous version). I look forward to trying them all out at my Tuesday night game night, whenever we have the time to meet.

That's pretty much it. Just keeping on keeping on and sort of bracing myself for the coming storm. I honestly don't think it will be that bad, but I've never actually been part of a professional studio in full-on crunch mode so I suppose I am a little anxious to see how bad it can really be, though I don't imagine it can really compare to the Guildhall. Or at least I hope not. At the very least, I look at the other Ratchet & Clank games and remember how awesome they are, and that makes everything feel much more worthwhile. Sometimes when we're really in the thick of it, it's easy to lose sight of what we're working toward, so it's nice to see those games and remember them as a player, not just a developer.

Alright, well, I've got a little more weekend to enjoy, so I better get back to it...

May 26, 2009

Full Moon Show - Season Premiere!

Season premiere of Insomniac's developer podcast, enjoy!

May 25, 2009

What I'm Playing - 5.25.09

Well, I had planned for this to be a weekly post, but I had also planned for there to be other post in between. This last week was just kind of stressful (except for these last few days of delicious vacation), so I guess I've been spending most of my time at home just trying to relax. Anyway, here's what's going on videogame-wise:
  • KoTOR II: The Sith Lords (PC) - I actually just finished the game on Friday, or I should say the game ended, though I didn't feel I was directly responsible for it's conclusion. The game has a number of strong parts, but I think it will overall stand in my head as a pale shadow of its predecessor. Maybe that's just the unfortunate postion of a sequel to a critically acclaimed game, especially when that sequel gets rushed out the door before it's truly ready. There are several parts in the game that I truly enjoyed (like getting embroiled in the mystery and intrigue of a civil war brewing on one of the planets), but I think that the unfortunately lacking conclusion diminishes the entire game as a whole. Events in the game felt like they were building to something great before it all just stopped without any great explanation or resolution. It's no Soul Reaver, PsiOps, or Halo 2 on this point, but it's still an unsatisfying conclusion. Too bad really. Still I am glad to have played it and enjoyed a great deal of my adventure.
  • Fable II (X360) - After finishing KoTOR 2, I had some overwhelming desire to play this game, and I'm not really sure why. My best guess is all the ads for the new DLC that were litered across my 360's dashboard, but whatever the reason, I've been playing it like crazy and loving it. When the game originally came out, I was neck deep in thesis work so I didn't really have the chance to play it nearly as much as I would have liked before. The game is not without it's flaws for certain, but there's just something fun about being in the world of Albion. There's a great sense of freedom to explore and just really do whatever you want. Often, I would get busy just taking odd jobs and trying to expand my real estate holdings without really moving the main quest forward at all. Other times I'd be exploring every nook and cranny looking for cool, secret areas or "phat loots." It's one of those addicitive expereinces where you keep have one "last" thing to do and before you know it it's 3 AM. As I said, the game has it's shortcomings, which mostly amount to every part of the game (combat, character development, story, etc.) being too shallow. I love the amount of freedom that Fable II just gives me to live in the world and really play a role, I just wish the expereince had deeper levels for me to explore. Still, I've been playing it almost non-stop since Friday (except for a few Memorial Day BBQs) and it's still managed to keep my interest, so I suppose I can't complain too much.
  • Saint's Row 2 (PS3) - I still am playing this only intermittently, but it's great for just kicking back and having fun. There are a remarkable number of varied things to do in any given play session. Similar to Fable II, it supports a lot of player freedom and allows me to just get in and have a good time without having to worry too much about what I should be doing. The story may be a bit weaker for it, but that really not what I'm playing it for, so that's fine with me.
I am also eagerly anticipating the release of Infamous and Red Faction: Guerilla over the next couple weeks. Both had really strong demos, in my opinion, and I am really looking forward to what both games seem to bring to the open-world genre (is that a genre?). Of course, given all the Fable II and Saint's Row 2 I've been playing lately, I'll definitely have to pace myself and maybe throw an RPG or a strategy game in there somewhere :).

May 18, 2009

What I'm Playing - 5.18.09

Whoops, meant to post this yesterday, but I got busy with, well, not doing this anyhow, and then I ended up staying late at work until just a few moments ago. So, anyway...

Here's what I've been playing recently:
  • Sacred 2 (X360) - I picked this up over the weekend, and I have to say I am enjoying it even more than I expected to. I love a good dungeon crawler, and on the consoles, the couch co-op they offer are among the best of my co-op gaming experiences. I expected this game to be a good if rough incarnation of the genre, and was pleasantly surprised to find something closer to a great (if rough) incarnation. The story and quests seem pretty simple, but the world is huge, the classes seem suitably varied and highly customizable, and there seems to be plenty of "phat" loots to find, so what more can you really ask for from an dungeon crawler? I know, you could ask for Diablo 3, so would I and we'd probably be right, but it's not really going to make Blizzard work any faster, nor is it going to allow me to play it from the comfort of my couch. I've also been playing it online with my brother a great deal and have found setting up a connection with one another to be pretty seamless. In fact, with how large the world is and how the game handles "parties" it feels more like playing an MMO without all those other people around to bother you :P. It's a good fun, dungeon crawl with seemingly very long legs, so if that's something you are interested in, check it out, just be prepared for some lower than average framerates and lackluster storytelling.
  • KoTOR II: The Sith Lords (PC) - Due to the marathon of Sacred 2 over the past weekend, I haven't played this too terribly much lately (I don't usually have much time to play during the week), but I am close to finishing the last of initial set of planets, which I believe means I am closing in on the ending. I've been enjoying the game for the most part, though some of the dialogue seems to drag on a bit. Admittedly, this is mostly my own fault since I tend to ask every character everything I possibly can, because I like to get all the background, especially on my allies, but at the same time, if it's been a while since I've been in a good combat scenario I tend to get a bit antsy. I think this is actually where my biggest gripe with the game lies: a significant lack of good combat setups. Oh there's a good deal of combat, but a few lightsaber swings later everyone is dead except for me and my compatriots who have collectively suffered a minor bruise, and this is on the hardest difficulty setting. I have lots of cool powers at my disposal which do make me feel pretty bad-ass, but with no really worthy opponents to use them on the significance is greatly diminished. I recognize that people don't really play RPGs to be challenged, especially when the enemy/experience pool is strictly limited (i.e., no grinding), but I feel if I am choosing to play on a mode called "difficult" I should lose once in a while, and not just because you force me to use the crappy characters for. Still the story is solid, and being a Jedi is still a cool experience, even if it's an easy one.
  • Saints Row 2 (PS3) - I think I only played this once last week, but it kept me up later than intended, so it deserves mentioning. This game may not have the cinematic flare or urban grit of GTA IV, but it makes up for it with moxy and off-the-wall fun. This is the perfect beer-and-pretzels game for you to just pick up and have fun with, without getting too invested. That's not usually my MO, as I prefer to get deeply absorbed in one game at a time, but it can be a refereshing change of pace from some of my more cerebral experiences.
Well, that's it for now. I am hoping to turn this into a recurring thing, I just hope that when I play the same thing for more than I couple weeks my experiences are different enough to have new and interesting things to say about least new things :). Later, all!

May 13, 2009

Infamous comes out with a BANG!

...or maybe a ZAP!

And technically it hasn't "come out" yet...

Anyway, IGN gave it a 9.2 (Outstanding) and the reviewer simply said "Infamous is amazing." Color me excited. Here's a link to the written review.

May 12, 2009

Net Roots

Join the Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time facebook group!

I think we also have a Twitter feed around here somewhere....

May 11, 2009

Narrative Density

So whenever I talk about games, RPGs in particular, I always to end up talking about what I call narrative density, or in the simplest terms, the ratio of story to gameplay. Now, it's not a strict ratio, as a ratio assumes a certain amount of mutual exclusivity, which I don't mean to imply. Storyline and gameplay can exist at the same time, in fact, I think in the best games they often do. Nevertheless, I come back to the original concept, Narrative Density.

The reason I think of this particular concept is because I am currently playing through Knights of the Old Republic 2 (which I should say I am quite enjoying), Obsidian Entertainment's first game (at least as Obsidian). Obsidian has since released Neverwinter Nights 2 and several expansions, and is now working on the action, spy RPG Alpha Protocol. Why is that important? Well, as you are probably aware Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2 are sequels (duh) to what where originially Bioware games (just drop the 2's and you have the original titles). Bioware games I finished, finished very close to thier original release in fact, in additon to playing all of the official expansions to the original Neverwinter Nights. So why then, have I never managed to finish KOTOR2 or NWN 2 (sorry typing those all out got tiresome quickly) despite repeated attempts?

What I think it all comes down to for me is this concept of narrative density, of how much time I spend talking vs. killing monsters and exploring dungeons. I think, as far as I am concerned, Bioware is at almost exactly the right level of density for me, whereas Obsidian misses the mark, spending far more time than I would like talking and telling me the story than allowing me to experience it for myself. On the flip side, I think modern console RPGs have gone the opposite direction. In an attempt to keep achieveing longer and longer RPG expereiences, titles like The Last Remnant and Final Fantasy XII offer up far more in the way of dungeon slogging than they do in story, so much so that occasionally I actually forgot what my overall goal was in the first place.

So what does all this mean? Well, I think it's different for each player. Some players may desire to almost read their way through the story, while others may only be interested in the action, and I think there are plenty of games that they would be satisfied with. The really difficult one to please (such as myself) sits right in the middle, desiring a certain mix of story and action, and that mix may vary from person to person. The desire is not so strong that it completely deprives us of joy if our ideal density is not present. As I said, I am greatly enjoying KOTOR2, despite feeling a bit detached in certain 20 mintue conversations, but it is still something I am aware of, and if I am aware of it, I know it's not ideal. Admittedly, I love talking to Kreia, all her dialogue is intriguing and thought-provoking, so kudos to Obsidian for creating a character that actually makes you think, but I don't think I ever felt this way about the original KOTOR, Mass Effect, or even Jade Empire, and it seems worthy of noting.

In fact, my favorite game of all time, Chrono Trigger, is remarkably short for an RPG. About 12-15 hours for one playthrough and maybe double that to achieve every ending. It seems as though an RPG of that length today would be chastised by the community at large though it is one of the highest rated games of all time according to GameRankings. And I guess that is really my point (I know, I wasn't sure I had one either). As games continue to get more and more complex, there also seems to be this push to have more and more content often at the cost of quality (at least within the RPG market, in my opinion). This trend for the most part disturbs me, and I hope that developers are eventually able to overcome it in favor or shorter much more polished expereiences. While I might personally be a bit upset at a 6 hour experience, if all six of those hours were nothing but top-shelf entertainment, it would probably still go down as one of my games of the year (look at the Gears of War series).

The truth is from the standpoint of a consumer or a developer we would all rather have a game that's too short, than too long. That's all I'm saying...

May 6, 2009

Reading the Past

Man, I just read through some of my older stuff, it's interesting to relive those moments in text. Of course, that may be because my memory is so poor it feels more like reading a book than something I wrote.

I also noticed I used to write A LOT more like every day...and that was when I was working practically all the time. Maybe I'm just lazy...

I'll see about correcting that. :)

My 90 Day Reflection

So, I haven't posted anything in a while, and even longer since it was anything of consequence (not that I don't consider my love of Chuck important). I've been thinking about it lately and I suppose I have confirmed some of my fears about trying to maintain this dear blog while actually working in the industry. The short story: it's hard.

Now I am sure there are a lot of things I could write about, like what I am currently playing (Knights of the Old Republic 2) and what I am the most excited for in the near future (Infamous), but I guess that wasn't exactly what I wanted this blog to be about. I wanted to write about the industry from an insider's view, to talk about how games are actually made, and have some written chronicle of my meteoric rise to the top (or middle as the case may be), but it's proving even harder to do than I expected.

When I was in school I could talk about pretty much everything I was doing, the challenge and excitement of it, the big moments and the let downs. It was a good chance for me to reflect on what I was doing, even if my day was just a lazy Saturday that was lazier than it maybe should have been. Still, it was just a chance to think and evaluate what I was doing. The work is still as challenging and exciting as it was in school, probably even moreso now that it's "real," but of course none of it that I can share.

What I can say is work is going well, really well. I just had my last starter review, and I don't think it could have gone much better. My manager was extremely complimentary of my work, I feel like I am making real contributions to the project, and I am fitting in great with the team. I am really happy with how things are going here, and I am really excited for all of you to tell me what you think of the game when it ships. That's really as much as I can say, and I hope that's enough.

As for what this blog is going to be, that's still up in the air. I suppose I could keep writing about video games in general. I keep thinking up articles I could write like "Why I don't really play multiplayer RTSs" or "The Top 5 places I DON'T want to go in a Star Wars game" (Number one, Nar Shadda...bleh, bo-ring), but I am never really driven to write anything. That's probably just a lazy excuse, but I am still trying to figure out what I want to do with my time, now that I have a life again, and the blog just hasn't rated very highly.

It's weird sometimes to be out of the Guildhall. Everyone there was so driven, working very hard toward a very specific goal. It was hard to be sure, grueling in fact, but also it was so focusing. Like you didn't have time or energy to worry about anything else. Now that I am "free" I find that I have a lot more time to think about what I really want my life to be about (other than the job of course). I guess it makes you think.

Anyway, I am being exceedingly reflective at the moment, but as I said, that was always kind of the point, at least for me. I hope that my random musings are at least an interesting distraction from time to time, and I'll see what else I can do :).