World of Apex

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Cheap plastic sunglass inserts

I just got back from having my eyes beaten to a pulp at the eye doctor. People always say they hate the dentist, but I'm not so sure I'd rather have my peepers poked at. While the dialation drops wear off, I'll take the time to snap off a little rant about people and the workplace.

Working in an office, wether it be a physician's, a dentist's or anything else, has to suck. Having to attend to bitchy, hypochondriatic geezers and fidgety little kids isn't my idea of an ideal workplace. I give my utmost respect to the souls who have to go through that, and try my best to lighten the mood and kid with whoever is doing the prodding.

I have noticed recently however that the workers themselves are trying to lighten the mood and kid with whoever they're prodding. A support phone call recently yeilded a humorous insight into how cable companies activate your modem (they send secret nanites you know), and today the attendant torturing my eyes had a bit of fun with me as well. Most people keep you talking so when they do that little air puff crap you don't close your eye and mess it up. This guy was good though, he fidgeted with the machine on top of that, and I never saw it coming. He topped it off with a joking "Gotcha!" as well.

Alot of people get offended or angry at this type of behavior, and I have no idea why. The only reason I don't dread going to a doctor of any sort is they do their best to keep you in a comfortable mindset, or at least as much as possible. Also remember they're doing it for their own sanity as well, because a monotonous job really blows if you can't have at least a little fun once in a while. I wish more people would be like that. Stop the mundane, generalized chit chat and do something spontaneous!

So here's to you, guy at the eye doctor. You made my day.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Just let me play!

You know, I recently played the demo of F.E.A.R. No, this isn't a long winded hands-on preview, or anything about the game except for one thing that irritates me about quite a few games: cutscenes you can't skip. Don't get me wrong, I love a good cutscene, but when you die and have to watch the same cutscene again, and again...then it's gone too far.

A couple of games I've recently played have had me laughing aloud, enthralled and scared pantsless, spread across three genres, little alike except one thing. Very. Long. Unskippable (yes it's a word now). Cutscenes. Lego Starwars, for as child and Starwars fanatic oriented as it is, has ingame scenes that you can't skip over. I've found myself cursing many a time when I fail an objective (damn that podrace mission!) and am forced to sit through a minute or more long cutscene again. Luckily, there aren't any really long scenes though, so this is the lighter end of the spectrum.

The middle of the road is Fable: The Lost Chapters. Not only can you not skip many of the core story cutscenes (you can however skip the non-story ones), but to get the full value of the story you have to sit through some of the most unneccesarily long movie sequences ever. I swear the opening movie is 5 or more minutes long. The thing that redeems this game's annoyance factor is the cutscenes are usually interesting enough, or have enough content in them, to keep your interest two or three times. After that though, forget it.

The third example, and probably most annoying in my book, is the aforementioned F.E.A.R. demo. Not only is the opening movie irritatingly long, but you can't skip it. On top of that, after the movie there's an ingame cutscene sequence which you can't skip. While there is a good amount of content present in these presentations, they're only cool the first time through (though the part where the evil guy slices a gaurd's throat with his bare hand was pretty cool in replay). Again, there's a redeeming quality, since throughout the demo game itself you won't find a single cutscene or movie until the very end. The time between those of course is about ten minutes. I hope the final game isn't that annoying.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Demo Review: Age of Empires 3

It's been awhile since I've slapped a post up, and I'll tell you why. I've been setting up not only a home wireless network, but my own laptop and the laptop for my parents' business. Sounds easy enough, but teaching two old folks who've never seen a real laptop in their lives is easier said than done. The network was the easy part.

That leads me to a small rant about the topic of this post: the AoE3 demo WILL NOT RUN ON A LAPTOP. Period. Don't even bother. My laptop smokes the minimum requirements by a long shot, and supports HDR and the lot, but it crashes anyway. So no mobile strategy gaming for me. However I did have the chance to try it out on my desktop yesterday, and my four word review would be: Overhyped But Still Fun.

If you know anything about me it's that I despised Age of Empires 2. I hated the engine, the game, the era, the graphics, the interface, everything. So why did I waste my time downloading a demo of a sequel of a game I hated? Easy, I could either sing its praises or rip it here. Luckily, I can do both in one shot. Without further adieu...

Graphics:

If there is one thing you'll hear hype about, it's the visuals in this game. Though it's been said the game uses High Dynamic Range lighting, that's false. It uses the "Bloom" effect present in Garry's Mod. It's not used very often either, only on the roof of a building in the actual game interface. The Shipments screen (described later) has a ton of Bloom on it, and looks very nice. The textures are excellent and believable, as well as the water shader, which is possibly the best I've ever seen. The unit models are relatively high poly, that is high enough to look good but low enough to handle dozens, if not hundred of them on the screen. Unfortunately this means differences between faction units (in the demo, England and Spain) often boil down to uniform color. You'll see no difference between an English pikeman and a Spanish one. The effects (most notably smoke and explosions) are very detailed, that's about all there is to say. While many of the animations for the models are excellent (the death animation for cavalry), some of the animations are missing altogether, and you'll find enemy Pirate units coasting around in the reference pose. This is especially true of NPCs such as bandits and the mentioned Pirates, but occurs little with your units and never with animals.

For a demo, the visuals are more or less what you would see in the final game, and despite a few animation glitches and overhyping, it scores a commendable 4 out of 5.

Gameplay:

We all know the gameplay makes the game. It doesn't matter how pretty your water is or how much Bloom you use, if the gameplay sucks, so does the game. Luckily, the gameplay doesn't suck. It's not perfect, but it's not bad either.

As far as RTS games go, there's little innovation. Point, click. Build houses, farms, harvest trees and mine gold, blah blah. That's all here. However there's one wrench thrown in the works as well for you to consider: trade routes. Trading posts are a signifigant source of both resources and experience (discussed later), and you can either ignore them or follow EA's example by monopolizing them. Both citizens and your starting hero can build these, and as soon as you find a trade route or Indian...excuse me, Native American, villiage I suggest you start right away. Every time a trade cart passes a post it'll deliver any one resource or experience points in small quantaties. See why monopolizing has benefits? A good strategy is to set each post to something different, based on what you need. Anyhow, this system is unique and interesting, something you don't see often in RTS games.

As mentioned there is an experience system as well. This system allows you to build up points to gain shipments back to your home nation. When you get a shipment, you can trade it in at the upgrades screen (the one I said has the nice Bloom lighting) for one delivery. Deliveries range from crates of food (in 300 or 600 unit varieties) to military reinforcements of various units. These upgrades are chosen by building a deck. That's right, more card-based upgrading, how original! That said, it's not a bad system, allowing you to allot 20 different upgrades to use in redeeming shipments. While a bit cliche`, it's still an effective system, and gives some incentive to that neat trade thing. Oh and one more thing to mention, the experience you get builds up to level up your city. In a very RPG sense, the upgrades and experience gained from playing is persistent, and your level 1 Ass End of Nowhere city will someday become a level 100 Booming Metropolis. This is true of both single and multiplayer, so you can match up online by city level.

The gameplay itself, economics aside, is smooth as silk. Your units act mostly as expected, though the pathfinding has its blonde moments. Units will automatically form up into rank and file, as well as arrange themselves properly when multiple types are involved. Your archers or riflemen will stay behind the melee troops up front. Ranged units will bayonett the enemy in close combat, and when attacking buildings your units are smart enough to use fire arrows/torches. The unit selection is fine generally, makes sense and is well rounded. Nothing drastically new about pikemen, musketeers, archers or cannons really. The hero unit, or explorer depending on era, has special abilities and is pretty proficient in combat, though slow moving. He'll add some zest to your army as a leader as well, though heroes can be held for ransom if captured (they can't be killed, just badly wounded, at which point they'll lie bleeding for the rest of the game if you camp them. Note: this drives the AI crazy).

Speaking of AI, it's not too shabby. The single AI profile included (Queen Isabella) has some tactics knowledge, even on the easiest level. The computer is very good at perusing the map to gather all the treasure spots (leftover supplies, hidden gold and the like, guarded by NPCs) before you get any. Other than that, there's not much to say as I've only had time to play a couple games on the lower difficulties to learn the ropes.

Though limited in variety, the demo offers the solid RTS, exploration and economics management you'd expect from a touted series. 4 out of 5.

Sounds:

This is where I have my biggest problem. The music is top-notch, perfect for the era, very ambient and highest quality. The effects, world sounds and pretty much every sound effect in the game is excellently done, from honking geese overhead to the thundering crash of a dying building. So what's wrong? The voiceovers are HORRIBLE. Besides the fact you'll have trouble hearing the much softer voice sounds over the rest of the mentioned acoustics, you'll rarely be able to understand them. I'm not sure what language the English are speaking, but it seems like a combination of Olde English and Dutch. One minute you'll get a perfectly clear "Yes" or "Alright", the next a jumble of strange words. I can understand having the faction units speak their home language, but this is definitely not just English. On the bright side, other units like Cherokee Indian...ahem Native Americans will speak their own tongue.

Though a strange compilation of voices annoys the hell out of me, the sounds are otherwise top notch and the music redeems this section's 4 out of 5.

Content:


Age of Empires has always been a closely historical game, no matter how bad the gameplay was. The third installment is no different. Though the demo only puts you in the silver-buckled shoes of the English and Spanish, both are historically sound. The Indian...erm Native Americans present in the game appear in their home regions, adding better atmosphere to the game. The one catch here is when upgrading trade posts, you go from carts, to covered wagons, to...trains? That's right, while you or your enemy are still toting around bladed impliments of death and firing bodkin arrows, you can get your gold, resources or experience delivered on the iron horse. Aside from that, little more can be discerned from the demo, as no campaign missions are available, and no additional nations are playable.

From what there is available to see, history is pretty much on target. A couple problems hit this one down a notch from perfect. 4 out of 5.

There you have it, an all around good demo, worth the download. Though I'm still ticked it won't run on my laptop, it's certainly desktop worthy. There's a torrent available for it as well, if you aren't a Gamespy subscriber. You'll have to find that yourself.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

FREEDOM!

Free at last! Free at last! Thank god-almighty I'm free at last! The tyranny and oppression of the evil nVidia Sentinel warning message is over! That's right, my new power supply, once thought lost by backorder, arrived to slay the dragon of Insufficient Power!

I've been so lost in glee the last few days I can hardly contain it. My power problems are solved, my laptop has been shipped, and I'm another week closer to the release of some good, interesting games! Happiness can't last forever though, with gas prices forcing you to sell yourself to science to fill 'er up, and thousands of people in peril a few hundred miles directly to the south. So what controvercial topic should I cover today? How about why Madden '06 sucks? Yeah, that's right, I went there.

You know what I love the most about Madden? Is it the graphics that have only been marginally improved since 2002? The turn-on-a-dime perfectly realistic physics? How about the ultra-realistic looking 2D-sprite fans cheering in the stadium? No, what I love is the pre-pubescent statement on the cover: "Exclusive NFL license"! I would just love to see more companies take this stance. I HAVE IT AND YOU DON'T! Is that professional or what? Great job, EA, I'll never think twice about spending fifty ducketts for your revised roster and new cover art!

Seriously though, I can see why it's getting bad ratings. They actually did change a few things this time around. They made it harder to pass, made the defence better...lots of vague, generalized "improvements" that you should believe because EA said so. After all, they couldn't falsely advertise could they? Oh yeah, they changed the roster. Again. And the title is a number higher. Again. And they updated the soundtrack with more shitty c-rap "music". Again.

Sorry football fans, you get the shaft this year. And probably the next five years, until this license expires. Of course, if you weren't all NFL-license-whores you would buy something original instead of being led around by the nose.

Ah, that felt good. Now that I've nothing else to rant about, for the moment, and everything seems happy, time to play some Gmod.

I like to kick chickens.