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Malik (4/16/07)  

Another weekend has come and gone...apparently. I was too damned tired this weekend to notice too much. Nothing like having two days of freedom, and then having your brain shut down a few hours in.

I know I took part in a LAN party on Saturday. For the most part, there's nothing to really talk about on this. However, one game I played, Savage (just google "Savage 2.0"), does deserve some recognition. It's a free download, and unlike many free games, it's worth more than the price of admission.

Savage plays like a nice and unusual hybrid of RTS and FPS. You join one side, humans or aliens, and you are responsible for taking down some enemies while building up your own side. One person per side plays as the commander, who has more of the standard RTS play involved (building towers and factories, and all of that), while the rest of your team is on the ground. You can use your character to help in mining, building, repairing, and fighting. You also gain levels as you play and accomplish tasks.

The bulk of the game comes down to you trying to gain some money for your personal character (which you get through killing things). With money, once you die you can come back as a better character type, assuming your side has done some research via your commander. You can come in as anything from healers to fighters to workers. Once you progress enough, your dude can even come back as a siege weapon, to lead the battle against your enemy's base of operations. You can also select what items and powers to deck out your non-siege weapon avatar with.

The true challenges come from either running out of resources to mine, from having a bad commander, or from having too many structures destroyed by invaders. In the end, the side who loses it's base first is that side that loses the game.

Like I said, Savage is a free download. However, while being free, it's still a great game. If a sequel comes along (which is supposedly in the works), I'd say it would be worth paying for. Hell...the original is worth paying for, even if it's free.

Beyond Savage, I only did one other thing this weekend that I can remember; watch Drive. It's touted as the next show in the style of Lost, but it's the Fox take on this genre. I cannot call this a quality show, by any means. However, I can say it will be a good guilty pleasure. Also, Nathon Fillion (of Firefly/Serenity fame) is guaranteed to bring about a little fun to a show. While the show is being called a suspenseful show like Lost, I honestly cannot care about most of the characters and don't need to know their very obvious back stories. However, the plot is just goofy enough to enjoy...on that guilty pleasure level.

Well, since I can barely remember my weekend (maybe that's a sign that sleep and I are not as close as we should be), I'll just wrap things up here.


Malik (4/17/07)  

Carcossonne is coming to the 360 Arcade! For those who don't know this game, it's a classic German (I believe) strategy game that deals with scoring points by placing peasants as you build the world around you. It's really hard to explain to those who don't already know the rules (since the complex rules are known to bring up debates among my circle, at least). However, all that's needed to be known is that this is a great game for anyone who likes strategic board games.

I'm still trying to play as much Super Paper Mario as possible. It's becoming difficult. For one thing, I now have a great PC that is the most cutting edge I have ever owned, and I want to push it to the limits. On the other hand...

SPM has some flaws that are hard to ignore. Like many RPGs, the game is split into two major areas; dungeons (or chapters in SPM) and town stuff. The chapters are an amazing experience. Meanwhile, the town stuff usually entails buying new items (not bad), updating the plot (not bad), and placing your reward (pure hearts) from the previous chapter into a special pillar in town. That is where the game suffers. It's not a challenging experience as much as it's a major time suck.

The new pillar will always take far too long to find and offer too little of a motivation to accomplish. Afterall, the only reward you get is to open the next chapter, which should not require a virtual scavenger hunt to find. It always requires you to use one of your new pixls (your partners who grant powers, such as turning extra thin, bombs, and grabbing items), and it's always a boring and uneventful time.

It also doesn't help things that the game forces you to primarily play as Mario. While you get three other people in your group as the game progresses, and you can switch on the fly which one is your protagonist, there's few times that you aren't best off using Mario. Mario is the only character that can go 3D, and it's only by going 3D that you can find all of the hidden items, hidden enemies, and pathways you need to finish a chapter. It's like requiring only one character to be used in Smash, and that character is the only one who can use the up+B saving move, or any other game with multiple characters. They are all there, but only one has the abilities needed to finish the game. You will occasionally need to use another character to pass a single obstacle, but then it's back to Mario.

I am determined to finish SPM...but this hindrance of forcing Mario down my throat is not a good thing. It's also not fun trying to find the next pillar so I can get back to the good stuff.

I have not tried it, but a friend of mine showed me a neat looking game called Khet. It reminds me of the game Laser Chess that I once had on the Commodore 64, but in tangible real pieces. Basically, each piece has one, two, or zero mirrored surfaces and after each turn, a laser will fire. Whatever character is struck on a non-mirrored surface is removed. Your goal is to kill the enemy's pharaoh while protecting your own. I don't know how the game actually plays, but I think I may need to invest in this interesting concept.

 Best of all, they sell it at a store that's only a few miles from Microsoft's focus group and game testing center, and I have a focus group on Thursday with them. It looks like I may have to drop a little money on this thing and see how fun it is.


Malik (4/18/07)  

I don't have all that much to say today. However, I feel like restating some of my opinions on the only game I've had any chance to play lately; Super Paper Mario.

This game shows me more with each played minute, why I couldn't get into Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GCN) and why I'm struggling to finish SPM. The game (both of these games) are fundamentally fun and are great sounding on paper. They both have offered fun game play mechanics that really reward having fun with the system, while giving a plot filled with great silly humor and is simple enough for all to enjoy on one level or another.

The flaws that ruin that games, both of them, mainly come down to one main thing; the pace of the game. Most of the dungeons or chapters are a blast to play through and offer a good chance to explore and to try alternative approaches to somewhat standard appearing issues. However, the time between dungeons (and a select few dungeons) offer mindless tedium in the form of fetch quests.

*Minor spoilers for chapter 5-1 follow...they are only worth not reading if you absolutely hate to know how bad a level can get ahead of time*

For example, last night I played through Chapter 5. The chapter was pretty fun and simple to enjoy, for the most part. However, 5-1 was a pain in the ass. It wasn't simply a matter of exploring and fighting and seeing some silly plot. No. After you run through the opening area, you are in a more standardized Mario environment (pipes, flowers, piranhas, and enemies to jump on). At the end of this area are three blocks...they are some secret door mechanism that you need the instructions to use. So, you go back to town (the first area of 5-1...which requires a small bit of backtracking) to ask for help. One guy will tell you the order to hit the blocks to continue on.

The next area has some really slow to kill enemies (100 HP each...and you deal between 6 and 12 per attack at this point), but you fight your way through. You find three more of these blocks, and you try the combination. No good. Back to town you go. You have to backtrack through 2 environments. Once you reach town, that same guy who gave you information will not give you the new combination until you tell him "please" about 5 or 6 times. To tell him please, you start a conversation and then have to manually type out "please". By the way, "Please" will not work...even though he asks at one point for you to say it with a capitol P. This is slow and painful to put up with when the game should be a bit more action packed about now.

Five minutes later, you finally have the new door combination. It's one you would never guess (since it includes about two dozen different steps). You now run all the way back through the next two areas...again. At this point, you will really be sick of seeing the first and second environments of 5-1...really sick. You get to the blocks and put in the massively long combination, and a new area opens. I think that's the end of the backtracking on that level.

However, it's not the end of it for the game. Each time you get a pure heart (at the end of each chapter) you have to backtrack through town to find the special column that it fits into. This is long, drawn out, and serves to do nothing more than force you to reuse each ability you've obtained since you placed the previous heart. In town, you will be told to run pointless fetch quests from one screen to another on a regular basis. You'll get a lot of dialogue that you just can't care about anymore since you're too much in a mood of wanting to play and not to read.

The two games (SPM and PM:TTYD) are the video game equivalent of rush hour traffic. It's something that could be a lot of fun if you just didn't have to keep doing the same stop and go motion for the whole experience. When it's going good, it can be a lot of fun (like driving can be), but in this rushed version of sitting still just doesn't allow for anything to be seen as worthwhile when it's all said and done. I actually loathe to face bosses in SPM, despite how fun they are to face, since I know it means I'll be heading back to town for another few fetch missions once the boss breathes his or her last.

I'm now on 6-1 and I'll keep trying. However, this game is pushing my patience like only one other game ever did...and that would obviously be PM:TTYD. A game I ultimately quit on so I could get on to better things.


Malik (4/19/07)  

So, I ducked out of work early yesterday. It was only fair since I have a lot to do, that is not officially "on the clock" on Sunday. Plus, I'm in my own living version of Office Space. First they moved me into a smaller lab (cubicle). Then they took away my own office before I ever got to use it once. Then, yesterday, they took away my jugs of ethanol (which, for this scientist, are the same as them taking my "stapler"). So, leaving early seemed only fair.

However, I didn't plan to waste those gained hours by just playing Super Paper Mario. However, being determined to finish this game before I get onto anything better, I needed to play. I am now officially in the final chapter of the game. The last chapter does make up for the slowness of most of the game, but it is not enough to fix chapter 7...the chapter that is nothing but fetch quests. There was some humor in chapter 7, but not enough humor or action to make up for being one fetch quest after another.

It also looks like a majority of the game involves things that require being revisited to get their full effect. This is included in a vast number of fetch quests. If there's anything that will not motivate me to revisit or replay old areas in a game, it's either fetch quests or escort missions. Both of these type of objectives need to be removed from games for all time. They have never been fun, and they have always served as the mark of lazy script writing and game design.

In all honesty, no one I have ever encountered has said that they love fetch quests nor escort missions. These are the bane of so many game players. A great example is X-Wing for DOS. It's an old game, but it was a glorious flight sim meets arcade shooter. However, it failed in comparison to Tie Fighter. Why did it fail? Was it because Tie Fighter was released later? No. They both ran the same engine with the same visuals. No, the reason X-Wing was a half-assed game compared to Tie Fighter was that X-Wing had about 300% more escort missions.

Why have I hated the previous two Paper Mario games? The fetch quest. In a time when so much more is possible with gaming as technologies are created to make more immersive games, the fetch or escort events are just not needed anymore, unless you feel like stretching out the clock when a game is finally completed. I requires the addition of only a little code to create the quest, and to write some lines of dialogue. It requires, in many instances, no new locations or enemies to be programmed, no new equipment to be made, and no real labor intensive programming to speak of. It all comes down to recycling material to get a little supposed "extra bang for the buck".

Anyway, I should, hopefully, finish SPM tonight. Once I do, I'll have no qualm with selling this game to whoever is willing to pay. I guarantee that I will never feel a desire to revisit this game. It may have received a good amount of criticism from me, but the simple truth is this; SPM is worth the price of admission...once the game becomes a $20 budget title. For now, it's just not worth it and I need some sucker to buy this game off of me.

...then I can get back to Half-Life 2 (and all of the extras that came with it when I bought it off of Steam last weekend) and Guitar Hero 2 on the 360.


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