I heard that you no longer need a subscription to access OnLive, so curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check it out.
For those not in the know, OnLive is an online video game service created by the guy responsible for WebTV. The whole idea is that you don't need a physical game console or a super powerful computer to run popular games. OnLive's remote servers have all the power you need, and OnLive actually runs the games remotely, captures the video feed, and uses a revolutionary new video compression codec to send that high-quality video feed back to your TV or laptop or desktop monitor, all at 60 frames per second and with minimal input lag. You're not playing the game on your computer... you're watching footage of you playing the game.
Greetings from Indianapolis! Work has apparently taken me to the polis of Indiana, and it's a pretty neat, albeit small city. I caught up on Penny Arcade this evening, and the confused state that Friday's Minecraft comic left me in was replaced by awe following Monday's comic.
I actually bought an Xbox 360 because I wished to get out of the computer arms race. Upgrading computers is no problem for me - I worked for several years at a computer repair shop, and I relish the act of messing around inside a case - but I found the necessary pace of upgrades to be fairly galling, especially considering the cost.
I resisted upgrading my four year old desktop until now for this reason. But then, Firearms: Source got released and my computer couldn't run it. So, Newegg got a rush order from me. Now, I'm playing all sorts of pretty games on my new rig:
Firearms: Source: My alma mater. It's free and they give you something like 35 guns with which to blow the living hell out of other people. Why haven't you downloaded it already?
Red Faction: Guerrilla: The Xbox demo never really swayed me, but I couldn't resist grabbing it off of Steam for $5. I love the destruction mechanics, but the sandbox world is kinda boring and the gunplay is occasionally too punishing on the player.
Left 4 Dead 2: Also grabbed on Steam for a song and a dance. Haven't had a real chance to play it, but I'm eagerly anticipating my brother's custom campaign for it.
Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: I'm still a sucker for LucasArts' point and click games. However, some of the internal logic for the puzzles is flat-out infuriating. I now remember why I don't seek out adventure games that I didn't memorize/have patience for as a child.
And yes, even with the wondrous delights of a new computer, Project Squish is still moving forward.
Despite the fact that I'm a big pussy, I have this weird, inexplicable attraction to scary games that crops up very, very rarely. When it does, I tend to get really excitable about them, like with Dark Corners of the Earth. So along comes the exasperatingly-named Alan Wake, and the game is gorgeous, and it's provocative, and it's a horror game, so I am all over this shit.
I'll get into gameplay in some other post (it's awesome, don't worry), but let me wedge my jaw open for a bit about how effing beautiful this game is. Alan Wake uses an in-house engine that not only allows 2 kilometer/1.3 mile view distances, but also does the following (source):
Complete modeling of atmospheric scattering, fully volumetric shadows that are projected through the entire world, full weather modeling, day/night time cycles, ambient occlusion (both SSAO and pre-calculated), normal mapping, high dynamic rendering, bloom, depth of field and loads of different pixel-shader effects.
Somewhere along the line, Alan Wake became both a great survival horror game and a graphical tour-de-force. It looks simply amazing. The daylight scenes are hands down the most realistic I've ever seen in a game.
My ability to form cohesive opinions hasn't needed much use in the past few days, so let's just go back to the time-honored list of games I've been playing. I've been very diligent with my work on Around The World, but I'm allowed to take a break every once and a while.
Bad Company 2: I really can't put this game down. I've long since abandoned the meandering singleplayer campaign and have instead focused on the thrills-a-plenty multiplayer.
Dark Corners of the Earth: Having already played it on the Xbox, I'm part of the way through my first PC version experience. I'm in the "Attack of the Fishmen" section, and have found that the PC's pacing in this section is inferior to the Xbox's.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory: A return to the third Sam Fisher installment as protest against the balls-to-the-wall murder simulator that is Conviction. I still hate the Goddamn damage model, though... enemies miraculous get stronger and headshot-resistant once you've been discovered.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened: Okay, I lied, I'm not playing it. But it's sitting right there on my desktop. And it begs the question of how I'm able to avoid playing a game about Sherlock Holmes investigating the Cthulhu Mythos!
More on Around The World in a bit, as I'm going gangbusters through the remaining gameplay systems, including the Options Screen, Leaderboard Screen, Tutorial, and settings for a Trial version of the game versus the unlocked version.
Having loved the previous games in the series, I found myself pretty much despising this game within moments of starting it up. Analog movement is gone. Stealthily avoiding enemies is now gone too, in favor of unadulterated murder. And Sam Fisher has now become Jack Bauer, right down to the torture that miraculously gets all questions answered and the man-on-the-warpath growl.
I know Tom Clancy himself has almost nothing to do with the games that Ubisoft spits out, but there's a reason that Ubisoft wanted the "Tom Clancy" brand. The games with his name on it used to imply sophisticated techno-thriller plots and above-average writing. The original Splinter Cell and its sequel involved cyberterrorism, for instance. Somewhere along the line, we wound up with Conviction, a weird miasma of Grit(tm), stubble, four-letter words, and ruthless killing as an end, not a means.
I've been a very bad boy and have done hardly any work on Around The World recently. Partly that's due to the obnoxious urge to move onto other XNA projects, a feeling that always takes hold of me towards the end of a project. Fortunately, I've ignored this feeling. Around The World will be finished, hopefully within a month or so.
But another reason I've done hardly any work is because I've been busy playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the game that took my love for Modern Warfare 2 out into the woods and shot it in the head.
There's nothing like going back to work on a Friday to make you pine for a snow storm, because there's nothing like a snow storm that'll give you as much free time to just screw around and play video games.
I spent the past week at my girlfriend's house, and her housemate has a PS3, something I've gone this far without needing. Well, after several days of playing Uncharted and watching the housemate play through Uncharted 2, I'm wondering how I ever went without one.
I did what I promised and attempted to convert Latitude and Longitude coordinates into X, Y, and Z coordinates for Around The World. I was surprised to find how close the results came (I'm currently using the position of New York City as a benchmark), but I've made enough changes to the world map so that the projection is now off. But, like I said, it was close. I'm going to keep fiddling and see if I can get it to work.
The solution to my Around The World shader discrepency continues to elude me. I took a break from my ineffective attempts to solve it and played the Dante's Inferno demo, knowing full well how much ridicule the game's concept has already received.
I wound up deleting the demo within 30 minutes, a little weirded out by the half-assed synthesis of three elements of game design that don't really match.
I continue to suck at Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer and continue to be adequate at Assassin's Creed 2's singleplayer.
I find both addicting because of a relatively frequent design decision in modern games: collect-athons, the padding of linear gameplay with optional items to collect. Usually, collecting enough of these items conveys some sort of bonus or achievement in the game.
In Modern Warfare 2, the collect-athon is inversed. I'm collecting achievements, and earning items. Accomplishing certain feats in multiplayer unlocks new weaponry and gear. In the first Modern Warfare, that amounted to weapons and perks. In its sequel, however, there is a truly bewildering away of weapons, perks, killstreaks, deathstreaks, callsigns, emblems, ranks, and God knows what else to unlock. It's overwhelming, so I'm doing my best to stick with a few types of weaponry I'm familiar with until I'm better versed in what the game has to offer.
Assassin's Creed 1, meanwhile, was all about the items. For the first game, each city had 100 flags to collect. Their benefit was nebulous and they were ridiculously hard to find, so not many people felt like collecting all of them. Just like MW2, however, AC2 went apeshit with the collectibles. I now have to worry about collecting feathers, Tomb amulets, codex pages, wall glyphs, Roman God figurines, money boxes, and probably a few things I'm forgetting.
And it drives me crazy,ábecause collecting all these things are compelling as hell. In MW2, collect-athons turn me into a murderous badass. In AC2, collect-athons upgrade my villa, earn me upgrades from Leonardo da Vinci, unlock secret weapon and money caches, and - my personal favorite - comfort my grieving mother. It's interesting! Some of the collectibles (the glyphs, in this case) even bring up Da Vinci Code-style puzzles I have to solve to earn bits and pieces of a mysterious movie. Collectibles leading to other collectibles!
I'm enjoying these games, but they drive me fucking crazy because I will never, ever have the time to find all these damned collectibles. All these precious nuggets of gameplay and innovation, mostly out of reach. Dammit.
I spent a bunch of time with Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer mode last night, trying desperately to suck less. Unfortunately, my Suck Potential is still near maximum right now, thanks to (a) not knowing the maps, and (b) having not advanced enough to unlock really helpful perks or weaponry. But I will soldier on!
Anyway, that wasn't the entire night. I also spent some time with Assassin's Creed 2.
I hope to have a new Develoment Diary soon, as I've been secretly working on Around The World while simultaneously playing video games. The graphics system is almost feature complete for AtW, but I think I can milk at least one more video out of it before I move onto implementing the gameplay: I still want to make the water sparkle in sunlight.
And I better move quickly, since Assassin's Creed 2 dropped today, and I have my preorder slip right. here.
I think I can split my time effectively, though, as I killed off Modern Warfare 2's singleplayer campaign on Sunday afternoon. Similar to my last post, I have many mixed feelings on the matter that I'll eventually convey in a review article. But I'd be amiss if I started writing that piece before finishing off the other things MW2 has to offer, so I dove into multiplayer and Special Ops last night.
Yeah, okay, soooo... remember that last post? It turned out that I was tempting fate, as my girlfriend showed up this morning with a gift: Modern Warfare 2! I'm trying to tell myself that this won't interfere with my game programming, but that was, um, 3 hours ago, before I started playing. The only reason I'm typing on this laptop is because it's within reach of the TV and the Xbox controller.
At first blush, the game is brutal. There's no foreplay, you just jump straight into the thick of things. The only evidence of "pacing" that I've seen thus far is the 100% over-stimulation that's thrown at you during every second of every mission. It's like someone licking your eyeball, nonstop.
Which isn't to say that it's bad. Hell, I can already tell it's one of the best games I've played. But it is brutal. Brutal stimulation. Brutal combat. And one of the first missions is so unsparingly vicious and brutal that I'll have to collect my thoughts on it at some point and describe what I saw and played through. This particular mission puts you in the role of a terrorist and gives you an experience that, as near as I can tell, has never before been seen in a video game.
Anywho, back to the singleplayer campaign. With luck, completing the singleplayer game will sate me just long enough to get some programming done before I rediscover the multiplayer component.
I managed to avoid Call of Duty 4 for a good two or three months before I caved in and bought it. I'll try to do the same with Modern Warfare 2, although I might wind up with it as a gift. Not that I'm complaining, far from it, in fact. I really want to play MW2, but I know it will sap time that should otherwise go to working on my game. I can't even begin to remember how many hours I lost to CoD4's multiplayer. [break]
Also, Call of Duty is established as a successful franchise. That particular IP has been around for most of the decade. As such, next Tuesday I'm going to put my money towards Assassin's Creed 2, itself only (heh, only) the second entry in a brand new franchise. The first one got skeptical but above-average reviews, and - like my regard for Mirror's Edge - I wish to reward the publisher and the developer for pursuing new IPs instead of rehashing the same shit over and over. Which isn't to say that Assassin's Creed and Mirror's Edge didn't have glaring flaws. They did. And it's also not to say that Ubisoft and EA won't release a billion sequels. They probably will. I just like new IPs!
So, anyway, those are some assorted thoughts. The titular "gift that keeps on giving" has nothing, nothing to do with those things that I just felt like talking about! I'm actually referring to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, again, which I started playing again once I remembered how clunky Mirror's Edge could feel when┬ I tried playing that again.
I'm currently playing through the game with a rotating roster of Juggernaut, Thor, The Hulk, Storm, Deadpool, and the Green Goblin. I'm playing on Legendary, so the bosses are much harder, but most of my characters are nearly-maxed out from the previous playthrough, so I'm slaughtering my way through the levels. Thor, Hulk, and Goblin in particular are just brutal... activating any of their powers is like hitting some sort of magical "I win!" button.
The ease with which I'm plowing through everything but bosses reminds me that this game barely pretends to be an RPG. Enemies just swarm at you, and tactics usually aren't important. It occurs to me that I'd love to see an honest superhero Action-RPG that requires careful deployment of forces, stat usage,┬ and whatnot. Anyone know of any?
Most importantly, I should have a new Development Diary coming tomorrow, as I spent huge swaths of Sunday going like gangbusters through my Around The World code, getting tons accomplished and transitioning somewhat painlessly from "write huge blocks of code/understand what it does" to "understand how to optimize things for the Xbox 360." The graphics are almost done, and once I've settled on the graphics framework, it's on to the actual gameplay.
Ah, yes, the free time. Played the Left 4 Dead 2 demo with my brother. I like the new characters a lot, not to mention the new weapon selection, but I have yet to see something that will make me buy the game. I guess the new miniboss zombies are okay, and the new levels look interesting and occasionally play in a novel fashion. But I don't see L4D2 as an investment. What if Valve decides to release yet another L4D sequel next year, orphaning yet another new purchase? Eh, I'll wait on this one.
Also, finally finished off the Br├╝tal Legend demo. I loved the humor and the atmosphere, and I love Jack Black, but the combat was clunky and inferior to the usual beat-em-ups I frequent. Although, I hear tell that the game transitions into a Real Time Strategy game later on, which piques my interest. Probably should rent it.
Played Torchlight too. For a bit. I'll revisit it, but there's a reason I didn't get very far with it: I played this game when it was called Diablo, and I looked at these graphics when it was called World of Warcraft. Not to impugn the pedigree of the Runic Games folks, as they're the former Blizzard guys who actually made those two games. And, admittedly, 75% of the rationale for my three-month stint with World of Warcraft was the phenomenal art direction.
I'm just sayin', I got bored with point-and-click "action" RPGs sometime in 1996.
Well, let's see, I never beat the Brutal Legend demo, and although I'm impressed with Mount & Blade, I haven't been able to spend much time with it. I've got the Left 4 Dead 2 demo sitting here, not to mention the Torchlight demo, but I haven't had time to so much as start them yet.
As someone with a full-time job, a functional social life, and enough Portuguese-Catholic guilt to remind me that I should be programming my own game instead of frivolously playing others, I am well aware that there aren't enough hours in the day.
However, if money weren't an issue, and the day was, say... 28 hours long, I'd be wallowing in these titles for the month of November:
And that's just what I can remember. Some of those games are already out, some will come out shortly, but this appears to be another holiday season to rival 2007 (obviously, as I've listed a ton of sequels to 2007's release).
But, again, I'm a fairly responsible person who doesn't have the time or the money to do all these things. Besides, the few of you that read this blog should know that I'm not trying to emulate Penny Arcade or Joystiq and be a voice of reason on every interesting video game out there. I should be too busy trying to make my own damn game.
So, methinks I'll nibble around the edges of that list a tad, but I've come to terms with the fact that I'll never be a professional video game player. Hahaha, who am I kidding, someone hand me my golden chalice and put me on Social Security right the hell now so I can play my gaaaaaaaames.
I just finished Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, and here's my review. My first playthrough was Anti-Registration, so in the near future I'll have to start a Legendary difficulty playthrough as Pro-Registration. I look forward to kicking Captain America's sanctimonious ass.
But before I do that, I need to play some SSX 3, since I just learned that it was backwards compatible on the Xbox 360. This is a critically important piece of information that I didn't notice previously, because, prior to purchasing the game, my 360 had turned itself into a $350 paperweight. I just played it on my old Xbox and didn't bother to check if it was backwards compatible.
Imagine my delight! Looks good when upscaled, too.
Oh, and I finally finished the Secret of Monkey Island remake too. Christ, I'm really slow, huh?
It continues to be very good. X-Men Legends I and II were incredibly challenging, even on Normal difficulty, but Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 1 proved to be a bit of a letdown, even during the later levels.
MUA2 has never been outright difficult, but it hasn't exactly been a breeze , either. You can't beat levels just by mashing the Light Attack button. The differences between a Direct Damage attack versus Tanking versus Crowd Control are still as irrelevant as ever in a game as fast-paced as MUA2, but the breakdown of Direct Damage attacks - radial, projectile, etc. - prove useful depending upon the number and types of attacking enemies.
My last post mentioned that I should've preordered MUA2 at Gamestop to get a free unlockable Juggernaut. Apparently, the Internets(tm) - all of them - reverse engineered the code and submitted lots of faulty download requests. I'm not sure if it was server spam or Gamestop realizing that they were being "ripped off" or something, but they quickly put a stop to fulfilling the remaining preorders.
"Thank you for contacting GameStop.com. If you are writing concerning the Marvel Ultimate Alliance Juggernaut code please be advised that we have exhausted our supply of these free codes. *The Juggernaut codes were advertised as while supplies last.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
Customer Service Supervisor"
My girlfriend was over on Tuesday night. She indulges my nerdy side, and I think we were talking about the X-Men/Wolverine movie series when she asked, "How come someone doesn't just make a game starring all of Marvel's characters?"
This caused me to make a "SQUEEE!" noise, after which I hastily slapped Marvel: Ultimate Alliance into the Xbox 360. I let my better half pick my roster for me and then demonstrated about five minutes of gameplay for her.
Before that moment, I had no intention of picking up the sequel, which had just come out that day to decent if not stellar reviews. But she had reawakened my Marvel hunger, causing me to dash to Gamestop yesterday after work and secure my copy. (I should have preordered and gotten the Juggernaut unlockable. Does John DiMaggio still voice him?)
Even though I'm still slowly working my way through its predecessor, merely posting about The Curse of Monkey Island put me in the mood to take it for another spin down memory lane.
I reinstalled the game on my development laptop and, for kicks, I just started the game normally, without any emulation. Vista booted the game without a fuss and I began playing. However, it crashed the moment I tried talking to Wally. Well, what did I expect? The game was made for Windows 95, after all.
But I already knew the solution. I quickly scampered over to the website of ScummVM, a charming little emulator and GUI that supports a ton of old LucasArts games. I've known about ScummVM for quite some time, but this was the first time I peaked under its hood while trying to get COMI to work.
Amongst the issues that ScummVM handles and the features it advertises are some graphical upgrades. COMI has gorgeous hand-drawn-and-painted art, but it was originally created to run at 640x480. Turns out that ScummVM has plenty of anti-aliasing and upscaling options to help that out. I've only begun to fiddle with the settings, but I've already discovered that once AA and upscaling is enabled, the backgrounds look flat out amazing at modern screen resolutions. The characters themselves (which are drawn with hard lines to contrast against the backgrounds) look a little "meh", but it's a worthwhile tradeoff. There's no real solution for running an old 4:3 game in 16:9 widescreen, but that's to be expected.
So, for those of you who wish to revisit these old classics and pump up the graphical fidelity, please check out ScummVM.
My roommate, Eric, made the mistake of saying something irreverent (and maybe even irrelevant) about Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire a few days ago. Despite the fleeting casual-ness of the comment, I leapt into action, desperate to find a copy.
Three days later and I find myself 7 missions in, just as enamored of it as I was the first time I played it.
Although I have a tendency to chide Nintendo for trotting out its mascots over and over and over again until you think you're witnessing Mario & co. appearing in something akin to terrorist hostage videos, nostalgia is a powerful, powerful force. Everyone is nostalgic for different things.
Me? SOMI was one of the first games I ever played, in its 16-color 3.5" disk variation way back in 1990. Long before I could take advantage of the intertubes or, y'know, a slightly more developed brain, I would huddle in front of the ole Windows 3.1 Packard Bell and try to figure out Ron Gilbert's clever puzzles and laugh at the absurd dialogue. I think I was held up in Part One for roughly three or four months until a friend realized how to solve the Fettucini Brothers puzzle.
Seeing and reliving all this with flashy new graphics, voice acting from the superb Curse of Monkey Island cast, and fully orchestrated music is like seeing an old friend after many years of separation. Or rather, rereading a treasured book, as I'm basically solving all the puzzles from memory at this point.
I'm hoping this will prove a cash cow for LucasArts and a return to their '90s roots, so bring on the rest of the Monkey Island series! Except for Escape. Man, fuckEscape.