'Every day the same dream' Impressions

January 16, 2010 § 2 Comments

Every day the same dream is a curious indie Flash game from Molleindustria. It was made in six days for the Experimental Gameplay project and is self-described as a “little art game about alienation and refusal of labour.”

In terms of communicating its message, the game is a resounding success. Every critical aspect of it reinforces the theme of being held in a terrifying, banal, futile existence. The characters and environment are all drawn in a kind of 2D Art Deco style, and, save for a few unique objects, the game world is devoid of colour – bleak and monochrome.  There is very little movement and energy from scene to scene, and the animation is regimented, disciplined, almost machine-like.

As the nondescript husband of the nondescript wife going to his nondescript job and every day waking up to perform the same routine, the player can only move linearly through levels, walking either left or right. There is no ‘run’ toggle, and the only interaction with which you have with the world is through a single button, the space key. The game is cyclical, in that it repeats itself as the player repeats, what seems like, the same day over again each time – or is it that every day is the same as the last? (Strange is it sounds, the phrase “Flashback meets Groundhog Day” comes to mind.)

Special mention must go to Jesse Stiles for his work on the soundtrack. His rhythmic, hypnotic mix of electronic beats, drums and acoustic guitar is fantastic and arguably the best part of the game.

It’s a short, succinct experience, granted, and I admit to getting slightly bored before even “finishing” it, but it’s well worth playing simply for the experience. Though I am reluctant to say that it has much replay value, it is a very clever, creative bit of game design, and it is yet another example showing us that it’s possible for games to be both art and, well, games at the same time.

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"You know, not every game needs a RPG levelling mechanic"

January 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

Castle Crashers is a game I’ve been dipping in and out between more heavy-weight titles such as Borderlands or Halo 3: ODST. While it has a fantastic presentation and a lot of content, it doesn’t come across to me as that great a brawler, and here’s why:

  1. AI enemies can continually hit you while you’re incapacitated on the ground (cheap and irritating design).
  2. RPG stats levelling dictate, to a good extent, how fast you progress through the game.

Recently, it seems that you can’t find a game that doesn’t have some form of RPG levelling mechanic in place. In many games they are well implemented and compliment the core design, adding a layer of superficial depth and giving the player incentive to progress. Batman: Arkham Asylum, incidentally, does it pretty well.

Unfortunately, sometimes the shoe just doesn’t fit, and here we come to Castle Crashers.

The problem with Castle Crashers is that you are forced to grind and repeat levels over and over so you can progress through to the next one. Now, if the combat was as well designed to allow a player to win purely through skill, this wouldn’t be an issue. As it happens, it’s not. Because your attack and defense stats are directly tied to the levelling system, you just aren’t going to get very far on skill alone, unless you are also very, very lucky.

Another perpetrator of this kind of design philosophy was Dead Rising, which used roughly the same system. Again, all it meant was that the player had to replay sections of the game over and over, just so they could get their stats up to a certain level where they could get through.

Now, I’m sorry, but at what point did playing the same part of a game over and over equate to fun? I must have missed the memo or something.

Castle Crashers would have done far better not having stats levelling in there. It would have been a better game for it if all enemy stats were balanced against the player’s in a fair and even-handed way. If they felt they just had to have some manner of RPG-style progression in there somewhere, it could just be that for every level you gain you unlock a new combo – something ancillary like that, something that doesn’t totally unbalance the game and arbitrarily prevent the player from advancing.

Overall, Castle Crashers is a game I’d recommend, in spite of the flaws I’ve just outlined, because of its “charm”, in the way it references and pays homage to the genre. Purely as a brawler, though, in terms of the combat mechanics, it is merely competent and not much more.

Weekend Impressions: 'Civilization Revolution'; and The Trouble With Being a PC Gamer

January 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Spent most of this afternoon installing a new processor, updating the bios, seeing Windows 7 deliver a huge epic fail message upon reboot, then surfing the Internet frantically for a solution.

For those who’re interested in this sort of stuff, updating the bios reset the boot priority on my hard disks, meaning that it was trying to boot the OS from the wrong one. I spent around 2-3 hours attempting to fix or replace the bootmgr file (the file that wasn’t working) before realising my mistake.

Admittedly, it was my fault for being stupid, but you just don’t have to deal with this kind of crap with consoles. Honestly, I was so tired after having got everything working that I didn’t have the energy or inclination to play any PC games. And yet I’m still considering buying an extra gig of RAM just so I can fill out all the DIMM slots. What’s the point?! I can’t even think of more than half a dozen games I want for the PC this year!

The crazed obsessive mentality of a PC gamer, ladies and gentleman.

So, having done all that and checked to see how much faster Dragon Age runs – a game I am likely never to get further in past the prologue – I checked out Civilization Revolution for the 360.

Uh, so it’s Civilization 4 made for a console. It’s a very good, faithful adaption for the most part. In fact, the only things I hold against it are: the incrementally irksome advisors who talk simlish to you; and that micromanaging a global empire towards the end of the game becomes a tedious bore. The first issue is minor; the second issue, actually, is something that’s always been somewhat of a problem in the PC titles. So, really, that’s less about lacking the tools to manage (i.e., the limitations of a joypad) and more to do with the functionality not being there. That’s really a design issue, if anything.

Having played the game, though, I don’t think I’ll be coming back for more. And it’s not anything to do with it being a bad port, because it clearly isn’t that. I just feel like I’ve played enough Civilization over the years to know how every game is going to go down. What it comes down to is that the gameplay hasn’t evolved, and it doesn’t excite me anymore. For me, Total War has stolen the crown away from Civilization, and unless ol’ Sid has something different for number five, he can count me out.

Tomorrow I’ll likely be starting Brutal Legend and seeing what that’s all about. While I’ll be doing that, of course, I’ll be attempting to overclock my processor and graphics card until it starts making funny noises or blows up. Why? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why.

Site Update – 08/01/10

January 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Just finished Batman: Arkham Asylum last night. Wow, what a game. Every aspect of it is so polished, so perfectly tuned and designed. If Modern Warfare 2 was my first choice for my favourite game of 2009, Arkham Asylum has to be second. It kind of feels like Resident Evil, crossed with Shadow Complex, then bred with a really slick 3D brawler. In every sense of the word, it is awesome and, at the bargain price of £17.99, an excellent deal.

I also completed Modern Warfare 2‘s Spec-ops missions the other day, with the full 69 stars now fully paid for with blood, sweat, laughter and some very bad language. I am, by no means, an apologist for Infinity Ward, but Modern Warfare 2 delivers so much, so well, that I don’t really understand how anyone who likes FPS doesn’t like the game.

Okay, so “No Russian” was an interesting, noteworthy but ultimately flawed experience. A couple of set-pieces – e.g., the Favelas chase sequence – just didn’t work very well, either because of the AI scripting or because of the level design. However, it is only in the context of a totally unrepentant, exhilarating, awe-inspiring Single Player campaign that just keeps on delivering one memorable moment after another, each one more fantastic than the last, that instances of crappy design pop out at you.

Some people criticise the game on the grounds that it lost some of the semi-realism of the first Modern Warfare; some people say that it’s now just some dumb Michael Bay epic, which implies that it deserves no merit for artistry. I just think that’s completely false. Michael Bay, for the most part, makes tiresome, boring films where he jizzes dollar bills over the celluloid screen for two hours and three-quarters. He’s a hack.

Modern Warfare 2, on the other hand, is fun, bombastic and a highly entertaining ride at, pretty much, every step along the way. It’s pulpy, alternate universe science fiction, and I love that kind of crap. It’s not some serious treatise about the nature of war; it’s your regularly occurring summer blockbuster. And that’s fine, to me. What’s wrong with a really well produced dumb, action/sci-fi movie, anyway? Because that is what this is.

I just think that people were expecting too much or something different. I agree that there are some tonal inconsistencies in the game that don’t fit in, but on most fronts it delivers a very powerful, impactful punch in its Single Player. I haven’t even talked about the Multiplayer, but that’s almost a separate game in itself, and it’s also superb.

Rant over.

I’ve also just received the Civilization: Revolution and Brutal Legend from LOVEFiLM. Since playing Halo Wars I’ve been curious to see what solutions developers come up with when attempting to make a competant control scheme for a console RTS.

Ensemble’s swan song, Halo Wars, was a good effort. It had impressive production values and a UI that worked. Despite those things, though, it was a fairly simple game, and even then, when things did get more hectic, there were occasions where the control scheme wasn’t precise enough to handle what was going on. I’m interested to see if Brutal Legend, which has a similar radial menu input, will be an improvement in that department.

Civilization: Revolution isn’t an RTS, but a TBS. However, it looks to be an interesting experiment in how to package a very PC centric strategy game and adapt it to a console. And by “adapt”, Firaxis seem to have done the right thing by completely re-scaling the game design around the limitations of a console, instead of just remapping the PC controls to a 360/PS3 pad. I’m honestly quite looking forward to checking it out.

Incidentally, I should have received Prototype through the post by now. Chances are I’m going to have to e-mail Gameplay and ask for a replacement copy. Seriously, that’s the second game in a row that’s got “lost in the post”. It makes me wonder if someone at the post office is stealing my games.

But that’s just paranoid, right? Bad luck, I guess.

Site Update – 04/01/10

January 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

First off, I should start with an apology. For quite a few weeks the blog has gone neglected, largely due to work and social commitments. Really, what it comes down to is not making promises you can’t keep. And in that vein, I won’t say it won’t happen again or that things will change in the coming year.

In truth, the only reason I’m writing here now is because this is my week off, and, goddamnit, if I don’t write at least something I may as well call the whole thing quits. With that in mind, let’s move on.

This week I’m aiming to give Unity a proper go. Unity is a “game development tool”, recently released for free on “teh Internets”, and I hear it’s fairly well-regarded and respected by the community. I’ve been interested in games design for a while now, but I’ve never really thought about it seriously as a career. Maybe after this week I’ll have a better idea of whether it’s worth going for or not – or, more importantly, whether I’ll be any good at it.

The rest of the time I’m going to be attempting to catch up on all the TV I missed last year, as well as several games I’ve started but never got around to finishing. With all the Holiday deals that happened during the period, with some still appearing, I’ve got so many games to play and so little time to play them. The same old story. I’ve actually divided up the games I’ve got to play across the week, starting off with GTA: The Lost and Damned today. Kind of sad, I know, but it’s the only way I’ll be able to play everything. Really, I feel sorry for the game reviewers, who, I imagine, never have the time to stop and go back to games they liked.

On second thoughts, they also get paid to play games for a living. And then write about them. Lucky gits.

In the meantime I seem to be posting more and more on Twitter. You should be able to see it somewhere on the right-hand side of this page. You’ll have to ignore the faux-prophetic drunken ramblings that appear from time to time, but there’s bound to be something of worth in there, somewhere.

Kind of worries me, though, that we’re now condensing written communication into tiny 140 words or less paragraphs. Maybe, someday, we’ll end up using a system of logograms, much like in the Chinese or Egyptian written languages. Hey, it could happen!

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