About games and gaming thereof!

Archive for May, 2011

A Real Assassin Game

Anyone who follows my Twitter probably knows I’ve been playing D&D recently. D&D is not new to me at all; I’ve played the game as early as when I was 8 years old (rough guess). I’ve been wanting to make an assassin character for awhile (not assassin as in “dude who kills other dudes for money,” as in “dude who takes the special Assassin prestige class”) but whenever we start a new campaign either someone takes the skill expert place before I do or I’m not allowed to make an evil character.

Being an assassin requires you to be evil. At first I thought that was kind of weird, but it makes sense. I mean, you’re killing people for no reason but profit. That doesn’t exactly put you on any moral high ground.

Assassination is a pretty dark business, and this inevitably got me thinking: Why haven’t we had any video games about it?

The two games that come to mind are Assassin’s Creed and Velvet Assassin. But neither of those depict assassination for what it really is. In Assassin’s Creed the assassins are actually part of some sort of sacred ancestry devoted to saving the world from the evil totalitarian government. In Velvet Assassin you’re a British wartime spy who’s assassinating Nazis.

It’s weird, there’s this inherently interesting concept and whenever people make a game about it they have to change it into something else entirely. Why can’t we have an assassin game that embraces the dark, gritty, and downright evil tone that would presumably fit assassination like a glove?

I guess another reason I’ve been thinking this is because I’ve been playing Thief lately. Thief very closely resembles this assassination game I’m imagining; it’s just that instead of assassinating people, your job is to steal things. Oh, and there are a bunch of silly zombie and monster encounters, but that’s a whole different story. Point is, you could say that people want a protagonist they can relate with and wouldn’t want to play as the “bad guy,” but Thief begs to differ. Garrett is a very amoral and mischievous character, and Thief reportedly has a fourth installment along the way, so nobody can say it hasn’t been a success.

Sorry if this post doesn’t seem to have much insight. It’s just what’s been on my mind. I’d really like to see a true assassin game.


First, let me sincerely apologize to anyone who may be looking forward to my post about Thief: The Dark Project. That’s definitely on my to-do list, but I haven’t actually beaten the game yet. Part of that is because I got stuck on some maze of a level where I have to get to a cathedral so I can steal an eye or something, but it’s mostly because I’ve been spending almost every moment of free time for the past week or so playing Terraria.

Die, tree! As an aside, I really love the art style in this game.

Terraria is an indie game that was just recently released, and many people have declared it to be the “2D Minecraft.” I can definitely see where these people are coming from. The game resembles Minecraft in many ways, and it’s obvious the developers took inspiration from it. Terraria involves massive procedurally generated worlds, extensive mining and crafting, creating weapons and armor in order to fight respawning monsters, mining deep into the earth to find rare minerals, et cetera.

You know, what with everyone throwing heaps of praise onto Minecraft, I have to say that the game never really resonated with me the same way it apparently did for everyone else. It was entertaining and interesting for a little while, but I never really found much to do once I dug down to the center of the earth and built a tower reaching the clouds. I heard from my friends talking about how they built huge castles or dragons or penises or whatever, and I never really felt invested enough to do any of that. I tried playing “nomad style” where you just explore the overworld and survive waves of baddies during the night, but that quickly became repetitive.

But Terraria has easily hooked me in a way that Minecraft never could.

Here's me holding a lit torch underwater. Hey, if Spongebob can do it, so can I!

The most obvious and blatant difference between Terraria and Minecraft is in the third dimension; while Minecraft plays in the first-person perspective, Terraria plays like a 2D sidescroller a la Metroidvania. While that difference sounds simple in writing, it means they have to completely reimagine and redesign everything in order to make it work. The result is that comparing Terraria to Minecraft seems like comparing Contra to DOOM. Sure, they both involve running around and shooting things, but they feel completely different.

But that’s most certainly not the only major difference between Terraria and Minecraft. The main difference in general design, from what I gather anyway, is that while Minecraft goes for simplicity, Terraria goes for variety. Minecraft simply went for broke using the basic concepts of mining and crafting (hence the title, I suppose) while Terraria has filled itself with a massive pile of different activities for you to explore and achieve. Minecraft may have pulled off the whole “building massive monuments” niche much better than Terraria, but Terraria does damn near everything else better. So if you’re not into building massive monuments, then chances are you’ll like Terraria much more.

Terraria has a long list of different features, so I’m just going to mention the ones that stick out in my mind.

There are various RPG elements. You can use certain items you find to upgrade your max health and mana, and there are about a million different items of varying levels of rarity that you can find and/or craft. There’s the same set of armors and weapons you can craft as in Minecraft, but there are also a whole bunch of accessories you can find in dungeons, including a health regeneration ring, a double-jump bottle, boots of haste and a mirror that essentially acts as an infinite supply of town portal scrolls. This allows for different people to set different goals to find or craft different items for themselves; I set a goal fairly early on to craft my own lightsaber, and after several days of mining, crafting, fighting, dying and respawning I finally achieved that goal yesterday:

Fuck yeah, bitches. I got me a blue lightsaber. Er, "phaseblade," sorry.

You may have noticed the bearded old man behind me in that shot. Well, that leads me to the next feature: You can build houses like in Minecraft, but in this game you can get NPCs to move into them. Different NPCs will move in depending on what you’ve accomplished in the world; an arms dealer will appear if you’ve found a gun, a nurse will show up if you’ve upped your max health, a merchant will pop in if you get over 50 silver, etc. These NPCs can be very helpful, and it’s nice that we can now sell all those items we don’t need instead of having to stuff them all in chests or toss them into fires like in Minecraft.

Me chatting with my arms dealer. Damn, I want his coat. And his date.

The only NPC I haven’t unlocked yet is the dryad, which will only join your town if you’ve killed a boss monster. Oh yeah, another thing: there’s boss monsters. And holy hell, do those monsters pack a punch.

This boss tore my shit apart. I'm warning you, do not face it unless you have really good gear. And friends.

There’s a lot more monster variety in general in this game than in Minecraft. Minecraft simply had four enemies if I recall correctly (zombies, skeletons, spiders and creepers) while Terraria has about a kajillion of them that spawn in different locations and during different events. Zombies, giant floating eyes, floating chunks of meteorite, fire imps, various incarnations of giant dirt worm, slime monsters, varying classes of goblins, the list goes on. I’ve been playing almost all week, and I’m fairly certain I still haven’t encountered all the different monsters in the game.

Minecraft is a game that paradoxically has a lot to offer and nothing to offer at the same time. When you spawn in the world for the first time you see a land of infinite possibilities, but after you’ve explored it for a few hours you’ve pretty much seen everything.

Terraria is a game that has a lot to offer, period. Tons of variety in the terrain, monsters, items and features. I really don’t see this game getting old any time soon.

If you like Metroidvania-style games, you should probably give this game a look. And if you like Minecraft but wish there was more to do in it, then you owe it to yourself to get this game. It’s only $10 anyway, it’s not really that much of a risk.

Unreal: Should We Play?

So I got Unreal on Good Old Games.

I played through the first level or two before I quit out. Got all the controls and settings down, and it seems cool so far. But I got an idea. Instead of just playing through the game and writing a review for it, what if I recorded a Let’s Play of it?

I’ve been wanting to do a Let’s Play for awhile, but I haven’t been sure of what game to do. Ideally I’d want my LP to be of my first playthrough of a game. From what I’ve seen so far it looks like Unreal would be a good game for it, but I don’t know how long it is, how varied it is, how entertaining it would be to watch, how much commentary I would be able to make about it, etc.

So I’ll go ahead and ask anyone who’s played Unreal: Would this game make for a good Let’s Play? And would you be interested in watching an LP from me?

Deus Ex 3 Anticipation

Well damn, the world didn’t end. Guess I have to talk about something now.

This was released recently as part of the viral marketing campaign for Deus Ex 3 (or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, to go by its proper title). The game is scheduled to release in late August of this year, and they’re reportedly getting close to finishing it. It’s set up as a prequel to the first Deus Ex.

I feel the need to remind you all that Deus Ex 1 is my favorite game ever. And with that in mind I must say, I am way more excited about this game than I should be.

Deus Ex 1 was developed by Ion Storm. This game is coming from Eidos Montreal. The publisher is even different; DX1 was from Eidos, DX3 is gonna be from Square-Enix. None of the new developers were involved in the creation of the first game. They certainly liked it, and they reportedly have taken influence from it, but it’s from a completely new set of people. The game looks like a completely different game set in an entirely new world. It seems like I have every reason to be pessimistic and cynical about this.

But I practically got giddy with excitement when I saw that ad. I’ve been following news about the game for awhile. I preordered the game a week or two ago, and the game isn’t coming out for months. And I didn’t just preorder the game; I preordered the collector’s edition of it. I’ve never done that for a game before.

So why am I so excited about this game?

Well, the developers have been saying all the right things. You can tell from trailers that they know what the fans liked about the first game. This isn’t like Fallout 3, where they thought all the fans wanted was more Super Mutants and Nuka-Cola.

They devoted an entire team to the PC version of the game to make sure it feels like an actual PC game and not just a PC port of a console game. The interface for the PC version looks rather similar to that of DX1.

But more importantly than all that is the fact that damn near every critic that’s gotten to play the preview has been speaking wonders for this game. PC Gamer. Rock Paper Shotgun. Destructoid. Susan Arendt talked about her experience with the game on Twitter. Pretty much everyone has unanimously agreed that it feels like Deus Ex. And they’re not just saying this game is pretty good. They’re saying this game is fantastic.

Although I have high hopes for this game, that RPS preview has me worried about two things.

1. They say it has a bit of an over-reliance on cutscenes. This I predicted from the start. I know they picked up on all those things that fans loved about DX1, but out of all the praises I’ve heard for that game, I think I’m the only one who I’ve ever heard saying “it has no cutscenes in it” as a point in its favor. So of course this new game is going to have cutscenes all over the place, because that’s how games work nowadays.

This doesn’t make the game bad, per se. It just takes away one aspect of the first game that made me adore it so much.

2. They say the preview ended with a mandatory boss fight. This is something I didn’t necessarily predict but was very worried about. Unskippable boss fights were the kiss of death for Alpha Protocol, a game I liked very much otherwise. In an action RPG that encourages alternatives to combat like stealth and dialogue, forcing them to fight a big epic boss just seems needless and silly.

I’m not sure how they’ve done the boss battles, and all I’ll say is that there’s potential for the fights to not suck if they do things just right. Nothing we can do but wait and see, I suppose.

In any case, I’m still really excited about this, and you should be too.

Extra Credits: Graphics vs Aesthetics

Since I’m posting more often than once a week now, I figured it’d be okay for me to start devoting posts to links.

A week ago Extra Credits (a show I watch every week) had an episode about graphics and aesthetics. Go ahead and click the link if you haven’t watched it already.

It makes me sad that they made this episode; not because I disagree with it, but because I’ve been planning to make a post about this for at least a month. My planned title was going to be Graphics vs. Visuals, but I basically had all the same points in mind. I feel like they stole my post before I even posted it.

For many years now I’ve heard people preach about how graphics are or aren’t important to the fun you can have with games, and I feel like these people are all missing the point. Shadow of the Colossus has very dated graphics by today’s standards, but the game still looks fantastic. Mass Effect 2 upgraded its graphical technology beyond that of its predecessor, and yet the first Mass Effect was more visually appealing.

Why is that? Well, because having a good art style is more important than having lots pixels and shading effects.

Not that pixels and shading effects aren’t important, but I think the EC team said it best: “Graphics exist to serve aesthetics.”


Recently I was introduced to the Bartle Test, a sort of rating scale of gamer psychology similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It has four dichotomies for a gamer’s motivation to play a game: Achiever, for players who strive to achieve and gain a sense of accomplishment; Explorer, for players who like to search for hidden secrets and learn about their setting; Socializers, for players who gain pleasure from interacting with other players or characters in the game; and Killers, who thrive on competition with other players.

It’s an interesting concept, but my problem with it is that it doesn’t seem to cover any of my biggest motivations to play a game. I mean, a sense of accomplishment is definitely part of it, and it’s probably my biggest motivation out of the four listed, but I really don’t think that’s what factors most into why I play games.

And I think the reason this doesn’t cover all the bases is because the Bartle Test was designed specifically for MMOs, and MMOs simply don’t offer all the features that games have. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some MMOs. I remember getting seriously addicted to World of Warcraft for a few months before I hit level 40 with my warrior and instantly lost all motivation to play it for some reason. But MMOs simply haven’t been able to provide me with the same thrills that some other games have given me as of yet.

But then someone else showed me the BrainHex quiz, a similar dichotomy ranking scale that has more categories. I took the quiz and it said that I’m a Daredevil-Survivor. Here’s the description I got:

“You like rushing around at heights or high speed while you are still in control as well as pulse-pounding risks and escaping from hideous and scary threats.”

This really seems to fit me like a glove. Upon reflection it seems like so many of my favorite moments as a gamer fit that description. Like the sequence in Half-Life 2 where you have to run and jump across pieces of a mangled bridge hanging high above the water while being chased and shot at by an enemy helicopter thing. Or the sequence in Amnesia: The Dark Descent where you have to run for your life through a flooded hallway while being chased by an invisible water monster.

I think the best example of this preference of mine is the fact that my favorite browser game is Canabalt, a game where you freerun across buildings while trying to escape from the demolition of the city. That practically seems like a game tailor-made for me.

To anybody who cares, these are the full results I got.

Daredevil: 18
Survivor: 17
Mastermind: 13
Achiever: 9
Seeker: 7
Socialiser: 5
Conqueror: 5

After realizing this about myself, you know what game comes to mind? Mirror’s Edge. That game is all about freerunning and surviving. Sounds like it would be right up my alley.

I remember my brother got it for the 360 when it first came out and I played it. I beat the first few levels, then got stuck on a jumping puzzle in a sewer somewhere and never played the game again. I really liked the core concepts in it, but there were a lot of little annoyances and frustrations. Still, I bet I might enjoy it a lot if I were to pick it up and give it another go.

Sadly I don’t have a 360 anymore, so I would have to buy the game for the PC. It’s currently $20 on Steam, and that seems like a bit much for it. I’ll probably wait until it goes on sale.

Getting sidetracked again. Anyway, another interesting thing about BrainHex is that it links each category to a brain region and chemical messenger. Both of the categories I fit into most (daredevil & survivor) are governed by the amygdala and adrenaline. This makes perfect sense to me, because now that I think about it the whole adrenaline thing extends beyond video games. My favorite music tends to be very energetic and active. Just listen to my favorite video game song. You can’t tell me that doesn’t get your blood pumping.

I recommend you take the quiz if you’re interested at all. It doesn’t take long, and it might make you realize something about your motivations to play games that you didn’t realize before. Hell, I linked to it twice in this one post, you have no excuse. And post your results here if you do take the quiz. I’m interested to see the variety of tastes you guys have.

More information about BrainHex can be found here.

EDIT: Does anyone know how to unlike these posts? I swear I didn’t mean to “like” my own post. That’d be a rather egotistical thing to do…

EDIT 2: Fixed.

Shelving Fallout

“… out of all the legitimate complaints about this game, “I had to actually pay attention and look around” just seems a bit out of place.”

-Deadpool, from the Twenty Sided comments

I think this excerpt pretty much exemplifies a lot of responses I received for my Fallout review.

Most of you viewing my blog at this point probably learned about it from Shamus Young. He made a post about my blog two days ago, and hoo boy, my views and comments skyrocketed.

I’m not surprised by how many people disagree with the points I made. Fallout is a very beloved old game, and I understand that. Some people responded to me with contempt, but that’s inevitable on the Internet.

What I’m surprised by is how many people actually agreed with me, both on my blog and on Shamus’s. Kind of reminds me of Shamus’s response to Halo, actually. I thought everyone loved this game, so I went in expecting it to be all sunshine and unicorns. Then I post my angry rant on it and realize that it has as many haters as it has lovers. Huh. Guess my opinion wasn’t as radically outrageous as I thought it was.

Anyway, I want to respond to what a lot of people are saying. Essentially they’re saying that by focusing my efforts on getting through Vault 15 and consulting GameFAQs instead of just exploring and wandering to figure out what to do next, I was playing the game wrong. And they’re saying that it’s my fault, not the fault of the game.

I still think it’s the game’s fault because the game gave me no sense of direction whatsoever. And considering how many people are agreeing with me on that (a lot of people) I think it most certainly is a valid complaint.

Some gamers are alright with exploring and figuring everything out on their own, but most gamers need at least some sense of direction from the game or else they won’t see any reason to continue. You can’t blame us for this, it’s just how most of us are.

You’ll notice that nobody develops games like this anymore, even the people who used to make games like Fallout. Take Obsidian, which if I recall correctly contains members of the original Fallout dev team. When they made Fallout: New Vegas they left us a tangible trail of bread crumbs (so to speak) wherein each piece of the trail pointed us to the next one. That way the player always has a sense of direction, and is never left thinking “Uh… Where do I go now?” It gave you a sense of freedom while still having structure. Fallout 1, on the other hand, had no structure and still didn’t give me a sense of freedom.

Some people call that “not handholding.” I call it “bad design.” Yeah, some people might like it, but most people don’t, and if most gamers don’t like your game, you’ve failed as a designer.

I get that Fallout was meant to appeal more to “explorers,” the kinds of people who want to uncover everything themselves. And those people are probably upset that games don’t give them that feeling anymore. And you know what? I can actually empathize with them on that, because most modern-day shooters follow certain trends that really make me miss the old days as well.

The one that frustrates me the most is the fact that you can typically only carry two or three guns. I can understand how that helps keep things balanced in a multiplayer setting, but in single player it adds more depth to the gameplay when you can carry all the weapons in your arsenal at once. It lets you approach each challenge in a multitude of ways and helps bring more strategy to the field. By only letting the player hold a few guns, you have to make sure that every challenge in the game can be defeated with any of the guns, and it ends up feeling like either the challenges, the guns, or both have been dumbed down.

But now I’m getting way off-topic. Anyway, I’m open to the idea that in some parallel universe where I had a different first experience with Fallout I may have ended up loving it. People have said that it gets better elsewhere, and while I’ve never really liked that excuse before I have to admit that I didn’t really love Deus Ex at first either, but the more I played through it the more I became enamored with it. But my first impressions for Fallout were really awful, and I think that if I continue to push through it I’ll probably be focusing on the bad instead of the good. I think it would be best for me to shelve it for now. Maybe I’ll come back to it eventually.

Evidently a lot of people liked my Deus Ex review, and I enjoy playing these old games, so I’m going to continue this. To anybody who cares, the next game I’m gonna be neo-retro-reviewing is Thief: The Dark Project. I’ve had the disk for awhile, but whenever I tried to run it on this computer it would freeze up every ten seconds. Thankfully some kind soul on Twenty Sided named Daemian Lucifer let me in on how to fix that problem, and it seems to be working alright now.

I just beat the second level. So far it’s been very entertaining, interesting, and frustrating. Reminds me a lot of System Shock 2.

Age of Empires Online

As a member of the Escapist Publisher’s Club, I was given a key awhile ago to the closed beta for Age of Empires Online. When I first heard that title my thought was “Oh wow, a strategy game that you can play online? Yeah, it’s not like we’ve had that since 1995.” So I wasn’t very intrigued.

But once I actually put my code in and gave it a look I realized what they meant by online.

In short terms, the game is an MMO RTS. You have a capital city where you handle your experience points and unlockable items and collect quests from NPCs with glowing gold exclamation points over their heads. Then you go to your quest log and choose to begin a quest, which sends you to a closed-off RTS level.

As far as the RPG elements go, you gain items from your missions and can equip those items to your general units in order to give them bonuses. Maybe a special spear you can give to your spearmen to give them +10% damage, or special tools to give to your workers to make them more efficient. Stuff like that. You also gain skill points whenever you level up, which you can spend in big tech trees to unlock more bonuses and different units.

Here's one of the tech trees.

It all reminds me of the upgrading and researching in the campaign of Starcraft II, except in this game it seems a lot more expansive.

What also sets this apart from Starcraft II is that there are apparently cooperative missions. I haven’t gotten to them myself, but I have seen a lot of people in the chat room spamming “LFG [insert mission here]” and stuff like that.

The reason I haven’t gotten very far is because I’ve always felt a bit deterred from the Age of Empires games. It’s not because I think they’re bad; I’m just never really sure what I’m doing. In Warcraft and Starcraft I can easily optimize my workers and units (at least to a degree) and it’s not too hard for me to strategize. That’s probably because I’ve been playing those games for a very long time. But with Age of Empires I can’t really tell how to go about things properly.

There are four resource types and there are multiple ways to get some of them. I’m never sure how many workers I should have farming or lumberjacking (is that a word?) or gold mining. I’m not sure what buildings I should build in what order and when I should start making troops. It seems like I would have to do some research to learn all this, which is why I’m probably never going to be that invested in the franchise. It’s the same reason I don’t like fighting games. I like games where I can learn by doing, not by reading and researching.

Admittedly this hasn’t been much of a problem up to now in my AoE Online campaign, since the game has a very gentle learning curve, but it bothers me nonetheless.

Don’t think that means this is a bad game, though. On the contrary, I think this is a really cool concept. We’ve seen MMO RPGs, MMO shooters, and even MMO brawlers, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen an MMO RTS before. And so far I like what I see.

When the game is fully released it’s going to be free-to-play, so you won’t really have any excuse not to play it. If you’ve never played an RTS before I’d suggest you check it out when it comes out (I’ll post here when that time comes, don’t worry about having to check up on it).

Fallout 1: First Impressions

I hope you like retro reviews!

I’ve been retro-gaming a lot ever since I got my own laptop a year ago. Deus Ex, System Shock 2, Half-Life and both its expansions, Duke Nukem 3D, Counter-Strike, and probably more that I’m forgetting. Lots of games that I’ve heard a lot about but didn’t get a chance to play when they were big. Some I loved, and some I thought were “meh.”

Next up on the list is Fallout, since my brother has one of those fancy-dancy compliation CDs of Fallout 1, 2 and Tactics. I liked Fallout 3 and New Vegas a lot, but it’s come to my attention that a great big mass of people on the Internet very strongly believe that Fallout is apparently the holy grail of RPGs and that Fallout 3 was a disgrace to the franchise.

So I figure, what the hell? Might as well give it a shot.

Clarification: Whenever I try to take a screenshot in-game the picture comes out too dark to discern anything properly, so I have to use pictures from other sites.

First up is the character creation screen.

The first thing this dude reaches for is Kamikaze? Who is this, Leroy Jenkins?

You know, one thing I like about Oblivion and Fallout 3 is that they don’t demand you choose all your character’s traits and abilities and whatnot until after you’ve had a taste for the gameplay. This isn’t like Baldur’s Gate or Planescape, where all the character building is based directly off of D&D. Fallout’s system is entirely original. Meaning if this is your first time playing it, you’re going to have to either consult GameFAQs or just guess which abilities are best, because they aren’t exactly balanced.

Some people consider that standard for an RPG. I consider it bad design.

Onto the opening cinematic. Apparently I’m from Vault 13, and the overseer of said vault is telling me I need to get some chip that will make water for the people. I guess sending one person is a much more hopeful prospect than sending a whole team, but hey, it’s a video game, right?

As a MacGuffin to drive the plot, I guess it does alright. I didn’t find it very interesting, but whatever, let’s get on with the game.

Now, one thing I always hear old-school Fallout fans complain about in Fallout 3 is the color scheme; i.e. everything is brown, there’s not enough color and contrast in the world. So presumably Fallout 1 would have lots of lovely color variety, right?

Well here’s the first environment you’re set into:

Mmm, look at all those lovely shades of grayish blue.

I know this is the very first scene in the game and it’s probably too early for me to be making judgments about the game as a whole, but I still couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this environment. Are all these people hypocrites, or do they all just think gray is way cooler than brown?

So now onto the combat. You encounter a bunch of rats in the cave and you can either shoot them with a pistol or smack them with a knife. It feels very tedious and there isn’t really any strategy involved, but it’s only the beginning of the game, I’m sure all that strategy and intrigue will come later.

I get to the exit and it brings me to the world map. Sadly I couldn’t find an image for this, so I’ll just describe it. I’m sitting inside one brown square surrounded by black squares. On the right it has a list of two locations, one of which is where I’m at now and the other of which is where the overseer told me to go. I click on that one. Suddenly I start moving right, and slowly I travel through the squares until I get to my destination, Vault 15.

Here’s the entrance…

Black Isle dev: "Hey, sorry about all that lack of color in the first area. Here's some brown."

Okay, so I go inside and find myself in the vault.

"Yeah, I thought you'd like brown. Here's some more!"

So after killing a few more rats, I try to go into the elevator shaft and it tells me I need a rope. Okay, there’s probably a rope around here somewhere. Right?

I search the entire area, and no, there is not a rope anywhere. I try using all my skills in the “skilldex,” and none of them seem to give me the ability to travel down that damn elevator shaft.

After searching through the room several more times I got fed up and quit. Then later I decided to commit the cardinal sin of consulting GameFAQs. Apparently while I was traveling through all that empty wilderness on the world map I was supposed to stop at one patch of brown that had a green circle around it, because that was a town, and it’s the only place to get a rope so you can descend into the vault.

Okay, everything I’ve been saying up until now has pretty much been little nitpicks, but that really pissed me off. Isn’t this supposed to be an open world game? I figured since it didn’t have any tutorial or whatever, that meant I could go about things my own way. And my approach was to go right into the vault. But no, apparently Fallout wants you to do things its way, and you’d better step in line or get out.

And this is the game people say Fallout 3 is a disgrace to?

Anyway, so I go into the town of Shady Sands, where a bunch of NPCs are standing around. I chat with all of them. A lot of them have nothing to say, and some have the standard RPG Q&A routine: “So what’s your story?” “What can you tell me about this town?” “Do you like bean burritos?” Et cetera.

None of the characters seem interesting me to me in the slightest, but maybe I’m just too annoyed by the rest of the game to care at this point. I search every bookcase because apparently the rope was in one of them, and finally I find it and leave to continue my venture into the vault.

I use the rope on the shaft in your typical point-&-click-adventure style and proceed to the next level. More of the same, dull scenery and dull combat with dull rats. This floor has lockers, one of which has a rope. Gee, that would have been helpful a few minutes ago.

Oh wait, there’s another elevator shaft to lead me to another floor this time. Guess that’s what this rope is for. Rinse and repeat!

Now I’m on the third floor. Don’t see any elevator shafts this time. I go through all the rooms and kill all the monsters and… Nothing happens. I examine everything in the room and walk around several times to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and there’s nothing around.

Sigh. Guess it’s back to GameFAQs again. I’m definitely going to gaming Hell.

Okay, so apparently a text prompt appears when you enter one of the rooms, and it tells you that you found nothing and have to search elsewhere. This must have appeared while I was fighting the rats, and I missed it. Wow.

Okay, I know people complain about the tutorial prompts that interrupt game flow in Fallout: New Vegas, but there’s a reason they take up the entire screen and stop the game: It’s kind of important that you notice it on your first go. Since this text prompt was miniscule and quickly got drained in all the combat text telling me how much damage I did to Rat B, I completely missed it.

Anyway, so I’m supposed to go back to Shady Sands and find out more information there. What the hell was the point of Vault 15 then?! Wouldn’t it have made more sense from a design perspective for the overseer to just say “Hey, you should go to Shady Sands and ask around ’cause we don’t have any clues as to where to find blah blah blah”?! Then I could have gone there, gotten to know the NPCs, get any side quests, and all that business without dealing with the confusion about finding ropes and the like.

What makes this really confusing to me is that the reason old-school Fallout fans love the first one and hate the third one so much is because of the writing. Fallout 3 had very awful writing, but from the way people described the first game, I was expecting its writing to be spectacular. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems to be on par with most video games; i.e. bad. Not as bad as Fallout 3’s, probably, but certainly not good enough for me to feel emotionally invested.

I think it’s safe to say that Fallout has failed to endear itself to me. I had to consult GameFAQs twice to get myself unstuck and I’m only, what, like 30 minutes into the game?

I’m not about to say that Fallout 3 is better (though I certainly enjoyed it more) because whenever I try to compare the two this is what comes to mind:

Yeah, the games have a sort of similar visual style, and they have similar themes, and the leveling system is practically the same, but the two games feel completely different, and I think it boils down to personal taste more than anything else.

But hey, that doesn’t stop elitist oldbies from saying that Fallout 3 was a pile of garbage and that Fallout 1 was the digital manifestation of Christ, so you can say whatever the hell you’d like, I guess.

Incidentally: If you can think of other “must-play” retro games, feel free to let me know of them. It’s very fun to check these games out and see if they still hold up by today’s standards. Deus Ex ended up being my favorite game, and I had more fun with Half-Life than I’ve had with a lot of modern day shooters lately.


So this game called Brink is coming out in a few days.

The game is selling itself on being very character driven; it allegedly has about a kajillion different character customization options and will allow you to take your character from single player to coop to competitive multiplayer seamlessly. And you know what? That actually sounds pretty cool.

Of course, every big-name mainstream game sounds cool on paper. And if there’s anything the Fable series has taught us, it’s that Peter Molyneux can go fuck himself.

Wait, no, what I meant to say is that if there’s anything the Fable series has taught us, it’s that marketers can promise anything they want about a game and it doesn’t actually matter if the game delivers in those qualities as long as plenty of people buy it on launch day.

So I was skeptical right away. As I always am. It’s basically my job as a consumer to be skeptical about things (as it is for all of us). But then I read something about Brink that immediately tore that skepticism away. It took it away and replaced it with a fresh batch of bitter cynicism.

Apparently for all the customization Brink offers, it will not let you play as a female.

There are a lot of RPGs that let you create your own character. Some games don’t let you customize your avatar to a very wide degree, but whenever a game gives you any aesthetic choices for your character, the first choice it gives you will always be gender. It’s the most basic and inherent choice we have when we want to create a unique avatar for ourselves, and it’s kind of important to a game that’s selling itself on appearance customization. I’d go so far as to say it’s as important to appearance customization as guns are to a first person shooter.

Apparently Splash Damage’s excuse for not including this vital feature is that it allowed them to focus on adding more options for the male characters. I guess that makes sense from a laziness standpoint. But it baffles me that they would think this makes sense from a design standpoint, because surely the point of having appearance customization in an online game is to add more diversity to the world, and if you’re going to remove the entirety of the female gender from your game then you’re effectively slicing the diversity of your world in half.

It would be like if Wizards of the Coast decided to remove magic from Dungeons & Dragons so that they could focus on balancing the weapon combat. You’re kind of missing the point, guys.

This is of course ignoring the fact that they’re effectively alienating their entire female audience, as well as any male players who happen to like to play as female characters (a demographic which I’m part of, by the way*). Who thought this was a good idea? Honestly?

So no, I’m not going to buy Brink. I’m not sure if I was ever going to in the first place, to be honest, but I think this design choice has told me enough about the developers behind the game.

This isn’t a boycott. It’s not like I’m abstaining from this game in the name of some sort of noble cause. This isn’t about morality. This is just pure common sense.

*EDIT: I feel the need to clarify that I’m not one of those guys who pretends to be a girl online. I generally play as a female character when the game allows me to, but that’s to add more diversity and variety to the experience.

Deus Ex

So a few weeks ago I let Shamus know that I quoted him in my post, and he responded. And I gotta say, I think I actually hyperventilated a bit when I saw that Shamus Young took interest in my own blog post.

I’m quite a fan of Shamus’s blog. I don’t know if I’ve ever given him any praise for this, but he’s played a large part in influencing me and inspiring me to make my own blog. He’s been doing his thing for years now, and he has so many fans that all he had to do was add a donate button to his site to get enough money to pay his bills and fund a trip to PAX. My blog is only four months old, and I’m nowhere near what one might call famous, so I kind of feel like an amateur filmmaker who just got complimented by Christopher Nolan.


Anyway, so then he said it would be interesting if I wrote a post relating my reactions and impressions to Deus Ex, since I said I just played it last year. I’ve actually been planning on writing a post about Deus Ex for a long time now, but I’ve been putting it off and every once in awhile making failed attempts to write it all this time because I have a lot of good things to say about it and it’s hard to put it all into words.

But I figure that at this point most of you have already heard a lot of great things about the game (and if you haven’t, you could probably just google “Deus Ex review” right now). So I could talk about how the setting and story are amazing, and how the blend of action and RPG is perfect, and how the ending will make you contemplate the nature of humanity, and how it’s so much fun to sneak around in shadows and lightsaber-backstab guards to death like a Jedi ninja, but that’s a lot of effort that would basically go to waste. Instead I’m going to talk about one aspect of Deus Ex that probably affected me more than anyone else, something I found so amazing that it sets Deus Ex apart from any other game I’ve ever played.

There’s something about story-focused games that always bothers the hell out of me, and since I’ve never heard this complaint from anyone else I’m assuming it’s more of a personal problem. In almost all games that have story, the story and the gameplay are always walled off in separate times, and practically in separate worlds. The gameplay is the filler, and the story is the framework. Gameplay is meat, story is bread.

I’ll use two examples to illustrate my point: Mass Effect and Grand Theft Auto 4. Both are games that feature good stories, and both of them bothered the hell out of me for the same reason.

Whenever a cutscene starts in GTA 4, you get to learn more about protagonist Niko Bellic and the people he meets. It tells a compelling story and it tells the story well. The dialogue is very well written, and the cinematography and visuals are stylized. You can tell that the cutscene designers of GTA 4 understand the language of cinema. Niko Bellic is a very tragic character and he has some of the strongest character development you’ll ever find in a game.

Then the cutscene ends, and the game changes from “GTA 4: The Tragic Story of a Man Trying to Escape his Past” to “GTA 4: Whiz-Bang Wacky Murdering Fun Times.” It’s hard to empathize with Niko once he’s run over 50 pedestrians on his way to work, and suddenly his character seems a lot less gripping.

Mass Effect and its sequel are both games that bugged me the same way. Both of those games give you a myriad of choices that you can make, but all of those choices are made in dialogue. You’ll enter a cutscene where Shepherd is talking to an NPC, and then a few dialogue options pop up and you pick one or the other. Once you go back into the gameplay, you’re in a consequence-free environment. The enemies and the allies are set in stone and you kill the bad guys to get from point A to point B. Once again, it’s like you’re switching constantly between “Epic Space Adventure with Moral Quandries” and “Epic Shooting Rampage D-Luxe.”

This is a common problem with games; the story and the gameplay should go hand-in-hand, but instead they’re separated like east and west Berlin in the Cold War. It ends up feeling like the gameplay is filler for the story; like I’m watching a movie that has very long and frequent intermissions to let me run around and shoot stuff. Maybe some people like that, but I don’t. I’d like to have the gameplay intertwined with the story.

Which, of course, brings us back to Deus Ex.

I’m going to summarize an early mission in Deus Ex for you. Terrorists have taken several civilians hostage in a subway station. It’s your job to resolve the conflict and then enter the subway train to get to your next mission where your brother (who’s also a secret agent) will brief you on your next mission. There are several ways this can play out, and I’ll summarize the ones I know about:

  • You sneak in through ventilation ducts and kill each of the terrorists without killing the hostages. Then you enter the train and show up on the other side of the city, where your brother will congratulate you on a job well done.
  • You shoot an exploding barrel which causes a chain reaction of explosions that kills the terrorists and the hostages in the station (and you if you’re not standing back). You then enter the train and show up in the next area, where your brother will scold you for being reckless. Then your character counters his argument by saying that the UNATCO regulations clearly state that you can’t let anything stand in the way of your mission, including civilians. Regardless, he’ll tell you to be more careful next time.
  • You sneak past the terrorists and the hostages and get on the train, and arrive in the next area where your brother will ask you why the hell you ignored the situation back there. Your character then says that this mission is more important and that he has his priorities set, and your brother will reluctantly tell you your next mission.

This is just one of the many, many examples of how your actions in-game will affect the story. Yeah, what you do in that sequence won’t change the storyline in the grand scheme of things, but the important part is that it fleshes out your character and makes him more three-dimensional.

But most importantly, it means that the gameplay is no longer filler for the story. The gameplay is the story. The game features no cutscenes (besides the very beginning and the very end) and the only time you lose control of your character is during dialogue, which is pretty much necessary. All of the action occurs in-game, and virtually all of it is avoidable if you play the cards right. And people will treat you very differently depending on what you choose to do during the game. It forces you to think about the ramifications of your in-game actions, instead of just entering no-think mode once the cutscene ends.

This isn’t the only game that’s connected its gameplay and story in such a way. I know there was a point in Call of Duty: World at War in which you had the option to save either your captain or some other person in your team during a firefight, and that made the game feel a bit more fleshed out, I guess. I’m sure there are more examples I could think of if I pondered it more. But I’ve never played a game that’s done it to such a strong degree as Deus Ex.

If it weren’t for the whole gameplay-story integration, I probably would have just considered Deus Ex “good but not great.” Or even “great but not in my top 5.” But because of its innovative approach to storytelling I see it as miles better than any other game I’ve ever played.