Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Variety Hour | Eating My Words

Some brief updates and musings on a few of the rabbit holes I've jumped down over the past few month.

Final Fantasy XV

More ironic than a franchise called “Final Fantasy” being one of the longest-running gaming franchises in existence is this new endeavor Square-Enix has made to stubbornly turn entry since XIII into its own platform. Though some good came out of the weird mess that was who-knows-how-many-games-with-Lightning, there’s clearly something counterproductive at work here, and it’s something SE refuses to acknowledge. FFXIV I will give a pass because it’s an MMO, but I’ve already started to see the signs in FFXV’s production as well. I still plan on giving the game a chance whenever it releases, but I stopped actively caring about it years ago, along with Beyond Good & Evil 2 and The Last Guardian. There’s a reason why plenty of us are so enamored with Final Fantasy XIV and it’s because it’s actively showcasing what made the series unique and loveable before X happened, which is the point where the series began relying on a weird and heavy-handed gravitas it never earned in titles past IX (again I’m exempting XI and XIV because their natures are very different). Right now, XV looks like it’s going to be the same mess that XIII was initially, which isn’t surprising but kind of sad, especially since Square clearly is reacting to this (even if they don’t realize it), by doing this platforming of single worlds and things like dragging VII out of its casket for a remake. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if I wound up enjoying World of Final Fantasy more than whatever XV eventually presents as, hell I wouldn’t surprised if I enjoyed Heavensward’s next patch more than I do XV.

No Man’s Sky

With No Man’s Sky, I’ve fallen into the camp of “they gave us pretty much what they said they would” (i.e. I'm a reasonable person with enough sense not to take everything the developer says on a game still deep in its development as etched in stone) with a notable side of apathy for it. For the time being, I’m still playing it for a couple of hours a day, but I can easily see myself dropping it soon and never playing it again unless more flavor is infused into it. As it is, the gameplay loop is extremely shallow and becomes stale rather fast. All I ever really wanted from this game after first hearing about it was Metroid Prime’s scanning component thrown into a vast exploration pool. While that’s actually there on paper, I also factored in that the animals, NPCS, and flora are all feel the same, and the story beats have so far only gone down one of three or four copy-pasted scenarios[1]. The narrative is rote and vague at best and in the self-involved manner I sort of find irritating (i.e. I go out of my way to ignore unless it's actively staring me in the face). After twenty hours of wandering around in space, the novelty of what the game’s doing behind the scenes (technically speaking) wears off fast.  I can’t honestly say that I’m disappointed with it, but I am surprised at how quick my feet touched the bottom with it.

Batman: Arkham Knight

I know why I bought this on Steam (it was on sale for like twelve bucks), but I don’t know what actually compelled me to play through it over the past week. It did remind me of everything I love about the Arkham Games, but that of course comes along with everything I didn’t like about them as well. The most grating of the latter is the rubber-banding of the game’s general challenges and difficulty, as well as the Riddler’s presence across the entire game. As many negative things as I heard about the Batmobile and how deep it’s embedded into the playstyle of this one, I honestly enjoyed screwing with it more often than not. Where the “Arkhamness” comes in for example is when game increasingly dumps more and more drones on you to shoot where the only variance is the venue in where you fight them.  It’s also hidden behind narrative context via radio chatter, so it’s easy to miss just much padding is there, especially towards the end of the game where they hike up the artificial difficulty for the sole purpose of preventing you from burning through the rest of the game.

It also introduces more and more enemies that circumvent your strengths (again narratively there’s a good reason for this, which muddies the point) which don’t go far in terms of creating a new dynamic in play as much as they serve as a new annoyance to put up with. Speaking of padding, nothing embodies that more than the Riddler, who in the prior two games I was easily able to ignore entirely. In Knight, it’s a little harder because not only does he kidnap a major character for you rescue, you’re required to do random trials in order to free them. There are also green-soaked nooks scattered all across Gotham that the player is supposed to solve while the Riddler frequently hops on the city’s broadcasts to goad them along. The game also locks its dinky two-minute “true ending” behind wasting your time tracking every last one of those asslets down. Still, for an open-world Arkham game, this one was leagues above Arkham City, which I’d definitely qualify as THE title in the series that most aggressively tries to waste the player’s time. If there were more focus on developing new dynamics on the predator style play that made me love the more tightly-focused Asylum so much, it would be my favorite in the series, but often the open world trinkets and aforementioned rubber-banding gets in the way of that happening.


Turns out I’m going to have to eat my words when I said I was going to swear off generation VII of Pokemon. I’ve spent probably the last month riding the backwave of the Pokemon Go wave by replaying through Pokemon Black and White 2, Pokemon Diamond, and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire (also gave me a chance to update my Living Pokedex[2]). The real catalyst for my renewed vigor in the franchise came when more details began slipping out about Pokemon Sun and Moon. Turns out Game Freak waited until I was damn near ready to seal away my interest in a tomb for an entire generation of games to finally offer up some significant changes in the formula. While Pokemon has seen some incremental changes over the past twenty years, it’s still managed to remain stringently tethered to the same base structure. Plenty of their systems that do see significant change or innovation are relegated to individual gimmicks between individual generations, which are quickly discarded when the next one surfaces. Now, not only do Sun and Moon seem to be doing away with the core layout of the game, there’s also the fact that Generation VII is likely to see the Generation IV remakes in however we’re meant to revisit Sinnoh (my favorite region in any Pokemon game[3]).

Even the story looks to be getting a facelift, which most sensible people shouldn’t care about with a Pokemon game, but Pokemon’s schizophrenic nature is one of the most beautiful things about it for me. One second you’re an idiot child that will be abused with forced tutorials to navigate a two-button game, the next you’ll find yourself engaging with the inner turmoil of a dead child looking for solace[4]. Game Freak also finally seems to be leaning into the 3D perspective of the world while offering up more ways to differentiate the Pokemon that already exist rather than just throwing on another hundred and calling it a day. Generation VI does this somewhat, but in a far more half-measured way, like they were dipping their toes in the water. All of this could just as easily turn out to be a smokescreen with the same shit behind it, but as of this post I’m actually excited for a new Pokemon generation to get started now, which hasn’t been the case for me since Generation IV.

1. Now that I think about it, Metroid Prime might actually have more to say in its universe than NMS does for its own right now.
2. http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Living_Pok%C3%A9dex
3. Though I’m much more open to them holding off those remakes until the NX takes whatever form it’s going to, as from what we know now, it will be converging Nintendo’s home console into their handheld, which actively forces them to make a Pokemon game that’s larger in scope.
4. http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Strange_House

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ansel - Mirror's Edge Catalyst (2016)

I recently built myself a machine primarily aimed at making use of NVIDIA's new Ansel technology[1]. Mirror's Edge Catalyst was updated yesterday, becoming the first game to make use of it. Unfortunately there is no super resolution feature or other whistles available for it as of now, but a solid freecam is always welcome as far as I'm concerned. Expect similar albums to turn up making use of this in the coming months[2]. Make sure to click on the images if you wish to see the full resolution (4096 x 2304), the full album will be posted below[3].

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Addendum | The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt | Music

Turn The Music Off, At Least Sometimes

“The soundtrack in Wild Hunt is often cloying and overwhelming. At times—usually in cutscenes—it can be just right, but when I explored the open world I sometimes wanted the damned cello solos and wailing combat-vocals-lady to chill the hell out. Try going into the menu and turning down the music entirely. The game feels different; there’s more space as you explore. Every time I do it, I almost immediately stop noticing that there’s no music. I usually turn it back on for main story missions. The problem isn’t really the game’s score but its implementation. Hopefully, someone will come up with a small mod that makes exploration music trigger much less frequently.”

Kirk Hamilton, Tips For Playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt[1]

I had quite a bit left over from my last post, passages and topics I wasn't able to fit in for some reason or another. After looking though all of them, this was the one I chose to refit as a smaller post. I really enjoyed the music in The Wild Hunt, but I very much agree with the above quote. The music can more than often be overbearing and intrusive to plenty of the game's best moments. More often than not, its usage reminded me of a meal’s ideal spice container breaking and pouring all over everything.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

/SP/ | The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt | "Na pohybel skurwysynom"

I suppose the game that’s impressed me the most over the past year is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I’ve no reservations in saying that it deserved all the accolades it received. Were someone to take a cursory glance at my impressions of it since release, their first assumption might be that I hate the damn game. For a while I actually thought that was true myself, but in the end it wound up swinging the other way, hard.

Monday, June 27, 2016

May the RNG Reign, May the Min-Maxer Die

"Zombies in REmake can actually take anywhere between five and nine shots to drop. Add to that some more RNG elements such as headshots and staggers and you'll see that our mental model isn't really valid. Our fate is in the hands of random numbers, thrown out by the game engine. that realization removes certainty from the equation and uncertainty is at the core of suspense in video-games. The Min-maxer in all of us wants to plan out our moves carefully. We want hard numbers and predictable mechanics so that we can reliably exploit game systems. Resident Evil hides even its most basic mechanics to make that impossible. It robs us of any comfort because despite whatever perception we may have in our heads, there is very little certainty in Resident Evil."

[game array] - Resident Evil and The Art of Suspense [link]