World of Apex

Friday, July 28, 2006

More, more, more...

I've been spending tons of time recently playing and mapping for Titan Quest. Recent patches, additions to my multiplayer party, and new mods have really started to pull this game from "cool" to "damn good" rating. All but one of the small list of bugs that got on my nerves have been patched, the last has a simple workaround for the moment, and more patches are in the works according to Iron Lore. I'm glad to see they acknowledge their game does have its flaws are are willing to fix them as quickly as they can. Anyway, I won't give a long, drawn out and detailed review of Titan Quest here, since I'll probably be writing it for D-Pad along with the other reviews I've been neglecting. I will say however that if you're a fan of the Diablo style, or like any type of action-RPG, Titan Quest would be a good choice to bring the old style into the new millenium.

I've been busy lately, very busy in fact. I finally got my laptop back from HP support, for the second time in a month. The turnaround was fast, GG FedEx and pre-paid shipping labels so thoughtfully provided by HP. However the actual repair service left much to be desired. When I got it back the first time, I fired it up and was greeted by a blank screen. Great. The backlight on the LCD went out, much to my dismay, so I immediately sent HP an internet to tell them about the new problem. Half an hour later a rather cheery fellow of obvious Indian heritage called me, immediately rousing suspicion as the caller ID read "Texas" and he was most certainly not from that particular meaning of "the south." A conversation ensued. Here is the dramatic re-enactment:

Apex encounters Tech-Support
Tech-Support uses feat STUPID QUESTION
Apex becomes confused
Apex counters with LOGIC
Tech-Support is IMMUNE!

A stalemate ensued, at which time I decided to bring out the laptop and describe the physical appearance of the screen in question if need be, so long as I could get off of the phone with this guy. Right then the impossible happened: the screen blinked to life. I knew then I had been made a fool of by my own hardware. With no explanation for the "specialist" I resigned with a curt thank you and hung up. The crisis was not over sooner did I lift the laptop to move it when, with a silent death wail, the laptop's backlight went dark once and for all. Unwilling to call back the obviously overworked support staff at HP, I sent another email saying the problem had returned as mysteriously as it left not ten minutes before. My reply came in short order: a standard, cookie-cutter support mail asking me to once again diagnose my system by their standards and inform them if the problem persists. Apparently they "understand the system does not work fine" and I should "isolate problem from a potential software problem." I had enough, and without thinking I wrote a mildly scathing email laying out the exact problem, what caused it, what it was that needed replaced and thought seriously about including the part number as well. Less than a day later I had a new drop box, and two days after that, a fully functional laptop.

Overdramatized personal crisis of the week aside, I was glad to note the new demos released on Xbox Live recently, and took the time out of my busy support-slave harassing schedule to evaluate the much talked about 99 Nights and the better-late-than-never DoA4...

99 Nights

This title has been shoved down the throats of the gaming public since its conception. Its hook is the promise of massive battles, flashy graphics and next-gen thrills. Meatloaf says two out of three ain't bad. Apex says it ain't good either. 99 Nights is your everyday cut and dry Dynasty Warriors knockoff, pure and simple. Unadulterated mass hack and slash that will wear both your thumb and the X button on at least one controller into submission. Despite that, the game is quite thrilling. The visuals are more than impressive, with the high detail player models you've come to expect...applied to every character in the game. All two thousand on the screen at once. You'll tear through hundreds of goblin infantry, dodge some arrows, fire some magic missiles and hopefully find some Cheetos in the process. You'll level up, get a new weapon or two, issue orders to your troops, learn new combos and unlock more flashy special attacks. When all of that is done, and you're finally out of things to realize it's only been ten minutes and you haven't finished the demo yet. It's overly simple, overly repetitive, overly flashy, and worst of all overly generic. It's the same large-scale hack and slash you've been playing since the first Dynasty Warriors, except it's HIGH DEFINITION. Don't fall prey to that buzzword though, because unless you really have an addiction to uninspired Japanese hack and slash games that try much too hard to be cool, you should avoid this game and its media-induced frenzy.

Dead or Alive 4

That's right, the DoA4 demo is here. It's only been 8 months since it was released, right? Though the guys behind the game may expect more people to simply buy their awesome game than wait to try it first, they finally gave in and have decided their sales weren't strong enough to let people off without knowing how unbelievably awesome their game is. That last sentance isn't laced with as much sarcasm as you would think. The game is solid, polished, smooth and the graphics are as beautiful as the chicks it features. The environments are detailed, spacious and pleasantly interactive, lending a nice twist to the often button-mashing gameplay that all fighters share. Lots of unlockables, multiplayer options, game modes and an overall very enjoyable experience make DoA4 worth at least spending the bandwidth to check out this demo for fighter fans and non-fighter-fans alike.

As a final note, I recently decided to try out Galactic Civilizations 2, after shunning its turn-based strategy style for quite some time. I'm still not a fan of turn based games in general, including turn-based RPGs. The game seems great all around, with a suffocating amount of depth to it, and everything a turn-based strategy nut would ever dream of. Aside from the pure awesomeness of designing your own ships with a huge array of physical and functional parts from wings and armor plates to weapons, engines and comms equipment, I still find the game somewhat boring. The demo doesn't seem to get the message across, so hopefulyl the full game is better off, but until I know for sure this one will stay in limbo.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Long Time, No See

I'm a very sporadic writer, especially if I'm not required to write on a regular basis. So, that said, every so often a conversation trips my writing instinct and I just have to put something down to get it out of my head. Now is one of those times.

Topic of the day: Gameplay or Graphics?

Now, before you immediately jump up my metaphorical ass and start yelling "GAMEPLAY YOU IDIOT," there is a point to this little rant. The point is, people are too one-sided, short-sighted and closed-minded about this issue. As soon as you ask the question I just asked, you'll get the reponse I just quoted. People these days are starting to turn against visual effects in favor of "new and different" ways of playing their games. It won't matter if it's the same exact game as before, as long as they have some new, fancy way of playing it. Case in point, despite the fact I'll get flamed for saying it, is the Nintendo Wii.

I'm not going to bash the console itself, so don't have an aneurism. The console is fine. However, the reasons people want to buy it are not. Ever since Nintendo used their little viral marketing scheme by abstractly naming their new console to generate buzz, then announced the inclusion of a motion-sensing controller, people have taken arms against the natural progression of videogame technology, jumping on a pop culture bandwagon instead. Gameplay! Gameplay! We don't care about the graphics, it's all about the gameplay!

Let's take a look back at the gaming industry before we go any further, to see how this mindset came into being. Over the past few years, videogames have become much more commercialized, corporate and generally have been made into a giant money machine by the big boys of the industry. EA churns out the same sports games each year with an updated roster and new soundtrack, companies pump out generic first person shooters like freebie fliers at a newsstand, Diablo clones 100 to 125 are made, and people gleefully slap $50 on the desk of their local retailer to buy them. However, even the general public isn't so blind as to wittingly accept this for very long. Catching on to the corporations evil schemes, the public has decided to "just say no" to things that aren't innovating. This isn't completely a bad thing, because it means people might finally wake up to the fact companies like EA are leeching money from their pockets every year for the same game, but it's also not a wholely good thing either. What would happen if people rebel against the publishers and say no to prettier graphics and yes to more gameplay?

In the real world, the publishers would ignore the public and continue on their merry way, because a few black sheep in the flock won't lead the rest astray. Let's be hypothetical for a moment though, and assume game companies actually cared about the customers and did in fact listen. If that were the case, the companies would have no motivation to make games look better whatsoever, and would cease improving visuals completely to save money. Imagine all of the dough they could save by not having fancy graphics! They could fire dozens of artists and cut down staff! Effectively, people would be stuck where we are now for the next ten years (the predicted time frame for the next shift in gamer interest, by my calculations). Games would look exactly as they do right now, on every system. There will be no Crysis, Gears of War, or Spore. All of them use new graphics technologies to improve the game.

You see, what people don't get is improving the graphics is a natural part of game evolution. Graphics have improved since Pong to become what they have today. Look at all of the classics we have today, then think to yourself, "what if people had decided Pong's graphics were good enough?" The art is as much a part of the game as the play style; one can not exist without the other. Gameplay is only half of the equation, on one side of the balance.

So, my final question to you is: Why can't we have both? What's so bad about having a fun game with really nice graphics? This day and age there's no reason we can't, as gamers, have our proverbial cake and eat it too. Giant game companies spend millions upon millions of dollars on development of these games, with hundreds of employees dedicated to them at a time, so why can't it look AND play great?

Aside: Reviews of games I recently purchased, in four words or less!

Hitman: Blood Money (Xbox360) - Hello, Mister 47.
Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (Xbox360) - Xbox Live or bust.
Titan Quest (PC) - Better Diablo, plus Co-op!
HL2: Episode 1 (PC) - Six more hours!
Rush for Berlin (PC) - Rush to return it.

Mod edition...

Dystopia (HL2) - Two words: Freakin' sweet
Hidden (HL2) - He's behind you.
Troy (HL2) - Pitt missing, thank Gods.
MultiTES4(Oblivion) - It's a start.
Star Wars (M&B) - Needs more blasters.
MultiTheftAuto (GTA:SA) - Ghetto blastin' online.

Demo edition...

Prey (PC) - Gravity rollercoaster.

That's all folks. I might post again this month. Maybe.