Archive for the ‘ Playstation ’ Category

Growing Up Gaming – PS2 & GameCube

We now reach a milestone in my gaming experience as I entered a new phase of my life. The majority of my experiences with both GameCube and Playstation 2 is set at college where I had both consoles and continued to play EverQuest. I spent the first two years of college going to a 2 year (or junior or community) college and saved money by continuing to live with my parents. I don’t have any stark memories of these consoles during these 2 years as I still spent most of my time on the PC.

As I detailed previously, I was deeply into EverQuest, so a lot of my time was spent on that. I also played a fair bit of Diablo, but the bulk of my time was EverQuest with a little still spent on Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. My console time started up again the latter half of my college career when I went to a university. I lived in a technically on campus apartment complex with four small bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a living area with kitchen.

I was fortunate enough to share the apartment with three guys I knew from high school. One hooked up his Dreamcast in the living room and I provided the GameCube as these two were designed with four player hook ups. The Playstation 2 was in my bedroom. I remember two of the first games I got for PS2 were Dark Cloud and Ephemeral Fantasia. I didn’t get too far in Dark Cloud and although I really enjoyed Ephemeral Fantasia, I never finished it. I didn’t like the ticking clock mechanic for Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, but found it acceptable here for some reason.

The coolest part of Ephemeral Fantasia was, like Ocarina of Time, playing music. It was more challenging than the ocarina music and I seem to recall there was a free form option as well, but I may be wrong on that.

I had to use an online guide to get pointed in the right direction at times, but the game was fun. It is probably the one PS2 game I would most like to revisit and play through fully that I didn’t complete in the past. Even though it wasn’t reviewed terribly favorably, and is probably fairly average at best, I enjoyed it.

The next memorable game I’d note would be the first Spider-Man game based on the Sam Raimi film. The game itself was a decent game, and I played through it on normal, then on the harder difficulty and had a lot of fun… until a level chasing Green Goblin through the city. Oh the profanities that came from my room were of great entertainment to my roommates (one of whom equally entertained us with the same playing Dreamcast fighting games).

Spider-Man 2, however, was leaps and bounds above the first with the first open world New York City and actual web swinging physics. If there was no building for a web to theoretically attach to, you could shoot a web in the direction. Combined with button combinations to pull off acrobatics while web swinging, the game was fun to just swing around the city being the wall crawler. Speed was based on releasing your web at the right time, you dived off buildings rather than just jumped off, there was a lot of intricacies put into web swinging. Honestly, after they simplified web swinging in the next game, I don’t feel any have matched the feel of it since this one.

Of course I picked up Final Fantasy X, the first fully voice acted Final Fantasy game. I remember particularly liking the Sphere Grid leveling progression system and I never really felt the voice acting was terrible. Looking back, even Tidus’ horrid laugh doesn’t bother me too much. I feel in the context of the scene, it’s supposed to be cringeworthy and awkward. It’s a forced laugh, that’s the whole point of that scene. Nothing’s funny, nothing amusing has happened, he’s forcing a laugh for Yuna’s sake. But that’s just me, I suppose! To Zanarkand is also one of my favorite pieces of music from Final Fantasy as a series.

While people were getting their violence kicks in Grand Theft Auto games, I opted to be violent on The Punisher instead. Not the best game ever made, but still fairly solid and it had the over the top “execution” kills if you had an enemy at the right place when they were almost finished off.

Over on the GameCube, there are a few games I particularly enjoyed, but possibly not the first one would venture to guess. First and foremost is probably Hunter: The Reckoning. Based on the tabletop RPG by White Wolf, the video game was a four player isometric game akin to Diablo and with the four of us in the apartment, it was a lot of fun. We played through it a few times and I believe we beat it as a group on the hardest difficulty. An amusing memory was being surrounded by enemies everywhere and telling our friend playing the biker character to use the cleave ability to which he yelled back “What’s a cleave?!”

Similar to Hunter: The Reckoning, a one of the roommates and I played the GameCube Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Hours upon hours were sunk into that game, playing late into the night, much to our roomate’s chagrin. Put away the torhces and pitchforks, though, as the same friend and I also played Baldur’s Gate on PC (though we never finished it….we got so close to the end and never knew it).

Continuing the trend of these isometric RPGs, X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II were a huge draw for the same friend that joined me on Baldur’s Gate. Playing as the X-Men and actually building a team that you could play off each other with combos was great. While Marvel: Ultimate Alliance came in the next generation, I’d love to see a new X-Men Legends game.

Similarly, there’s Champions of Norrath, a game set in EverQuest’s world of Norrath. While the game made absolutely no geographical sense for those who knew the world from the MMO, it was fun enough to play. With Daybreak Games shuttering EverQuest Next, I’d honestly love to see a new single player EverQuest game set in Norrath akin to the Champions titles or more like Dragon Age, The Witcher Series, Kingdoms of Amalur, or in an Elder Scrolls style.

I loyally continued with the Star Fox franchise as well, picking up both Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault. Surprising enough, I think I actually enjoyed Adventures more. I would have liked Krystal to have been a more active partner in the story rather than trapped in a crystal (har har), but having enjoyed Ocarina of Time, I liked Legend of Star Fox: Adventures in Time well enough as the game basically blended Zelda concepts and put Fox McCloud in place as the protagonist.

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“YOU STOLE MY GAME, FOX!”

Knowing the history of the game, even setting it in Star Fox universe, I’ll agree I’d have preferred Krystal to be the protagonist, perhaps rescuing the Star Fox team after being forced to land on Dinosaur Planet after a battle or the like. Star Fox Assault, on the other hand, seemed like a less than superb attempt to recapture Star Fox 64’s polish, but the dog fights never felt as hectic as they did on N64. The graphics were certainly a nice step up from N64, though.

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As always, Slippy. As always.

I had been thrilled with Resident Evil 2 through Code Veronica, so when the original was remade on GameCube, I picked it up. I believe I may have played only part of Playstation’s version and after finishing GameCube, I went back to play it again fully. I also enjoyed Resident Evil 0. Does anyone ever wonder what happened to Billy after all these years? In the same vein as Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was a great game as well.

Another game I can’t recall which I played first, spanning both consoles, is Metal Gear Solid. I don’t recall if I played the original on Playstation or if I went back to play it after Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes on GameCube. Meanwhile, Playstation 2 had Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and later Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, all of which I played as they released and thoroughly enjoyed. Well, maybe less so on Metal Gear Solid 2. Sorry, Raiden, but I’m not a fan of yours.

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I don’t remember all the details, but I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer prior to college, so I did pick up the game “Chaos Bleeds” on GameCube to play. Though I don’t remember much of the game, I remember I did like it overall both in story and gameplay. I seem to remember the combat wasn’t too bad.

Lastly for these consoles, I’d note The Lord of the Rings movie tie ins, The Two Towers and Return of the King, the latter of which improved greatly over the former. For some reason, I played Two Towers on PS2 and Return of the King on GameCube, but I don’t think there’s much difference between the two to really warrant suggesting one system over the other. A bit of a smaller scale Dynasty Warriors combat with RPG character progression, the games followed the general story and were fun to play.

A few honorable mentions would probably be Okami on PS2, Enter the Matrix on GameCube (I liked it at the time), Star Wars: Rogue Leader & Rebel Strike in the Rogue Squadron series on GameCube while Jedi Starfighter was on PS2, Onimusha series on PS2, True Crime: Street of LA on PS2, and Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone on PS2 (why Wizards of the Coast hasn’t done a full Drizzt or Elminster game is beyond me).

I played Smash Bros. Melee a little, but we overall preferred the original on N64 more than the GameCube version in the apartment. I never did play Twilight Princess, though I’ve since picked it up and hope to eventually, though I’ll likely play the HD version on Wii U.

Moving on from college, though made for Playstation 2 it was brought to PC, where I played it. That game would be Final Fantasy XI. I had stopped playing EverQuest by this point and a friend of mine was excited for the Final Fantasy MMO finally coming to America. Three of us signed up and started it, but I didn’t last nearly as long as others did.

The Vana’diel March is still one of the most memorable pieces for me.

There were a few problems from the start, such as randomized server placement making us delete and recreate characters until luck put us on the same server. The only other option was a ridiculously cost prohibitive friend invite pass to bring another player to your server. I want to say it was 100,000 if not 1 million gil, which might have been reasonable for the Japanese players who had a year of economy going, but American players were started on the same servers with no gil and an economy already rife with inflation.

I fell behind my friends as they played up to 12 hours a day for a couple weeks when they were between jobs and eventually found myself spending more time shouting “Looking for group” to find a party than actually playing the game. Thus ended my stint in Final Fantasy XI. Now that the PS2 servers are down and I presume the PC servers will follow one day, it would be nice to see Square Enix create a single player version to keep the game alive in some form for the future. Perhaps the mobile edition they’ve mentioned is their intent to do so in a different format.

The last game I played on PS2 was Final Fantasy XII. I enjoyed it to some extent, but wasn’t a fan of the MMO grind in a single player game, perhaps partially because of my distaste for grinding after Final Fantasy XI. Still, I had every intention of continuing to play the game through to completion, but when the Playstation 3 came out, I sold my PS2 when I got a first gen PS3. The problem was the PS3 wanted to pump Final Fantasy XII through in 1080p and the game looked more pixelated and messy than a Playstation 1 game. As such, I’m eagerly looking forward to another chance with this title with the forthcoming HD remake.

Final Fantasy: Star Wars on Ivalice

That’s all for my trip down memory lane with the Playstation 2 and GameCube. I’d estimate there are only three posts left in this series and the next one will bring us right back to the world of MMOs with the one that changed the landscape forever: World of Warcraft.

Growing Up Gaming – Playstation

Like so many others, I started the shift to Playstation from Nintendo for one game in particular. Final Fantasy VII.

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Final Fantasy II and III (still talking US SNES here) made me a full Final Fantasy fanatic. When Squaresoft announced the next installment on Playstation, it was already no question I would get it, but then the commercials showed off some cut scenes and it was like the future had arrived. The cut scenes they showed were like nothing we’d had seen before. If you go back to look at them now, they still aren’t that bad, but certainly show their age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there are the graphics of the actual game. They aren’t too bad in combat, and the backgrounds were definitely beautiful, but the polygonal block bodies of the characters are certainly rough. The game definitely had weaknesses, not helped by some poor localization translations due to a rather short deadline given to the localization team. It has since developed a divided opinion with some feeling it’s an overrated entry and others feeling it’s the best entry in the series.

Personally, I had leaned towards it being a great game that was still overrated, but have started leaning back towards it being pretty damn good. I’m not sure it’s the best entry in the series and I honestly don’t want to try to narrow down a de facto decision of which I think is the absolute best, but Final Fantasy VII, in my mind, definitely deserves its praise.I think Sephiroth is generally overrated and JENOVA is generally underrated in the game’s dual villain dichotomy. While I liked all of the cast, and I was stunned when Aeris (Aerith!) was killed, my favorite team was Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII (Tifa being the best of waifus past, present, or future).

Hopefully the forthcoming remake collection will make the game what it truly should be, with improved localization and fleshed out segments that were clunky or unclear in the original release.

The summons got more details in their animations and more impressive, but there was one thing I particularly didn’t like about them – too many Bahamuts. I’m on board with Bahamut being among the strongest summons, if not THE strongest, but having Bahamut Zero, Neo-Bahamut, and Super Hyper Ultra Supreme Zeta Excelsior Turbo Arcade Capcom Bahamut got a bit much.

I finished Final Fantasy VIII on the system, but didn’t like the game nearly as much, especially the Draw system. The graphics were a clear improvement over the polygons of VII, but are still pretty rough to go back to today and the story and characters weren’t as memorable for me. I will give VIII credit on having a better ending than VII, though, since it actually had a conclusion for the main characters while VII basically gave us a Final Fantasy ending for Disney’s The Lion King.

I loved Final Fantasy IX much more than its predecessor and it ranks highly in my all time favorites in the series. With the return of characters being specific classes, the game seemed able to really set scenes to give each character their own story arc with personality and growth.It was alos a nice change to have the more cheerful world and cast after the darker, even angsty, atmosphere of the previous two games. Even Final Fantasy VI was a good bit darker, particularly the second half. While I said previously that I would be hard pressed to pinpoint my absolute favorite Final Fantasy, I do think IX is my favorite ending of them all, and definitely my favorite ending of the series on Playstation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other Final Fantasy game often overlooked on the system is Final Fantasy Tactics. I had not played tactical RPGs with the aforementioned exception of Shining Force II. I actually liked the earlier portion of Tactics as the story is more grounded in the war and political intrigue amidst the kingdoms before it gets into demons and monsters and nefarious looming evils.

Though I loved Final Fantasy VII, another RPG I have fond memories of came out alongside it on the Playstation – Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. Where Square Enix was breaking new ground with CG cut scenes gaming hadn’t seen the equal to before, Lunar (originally on Sega CD) had beautifully animated anime cut scenes and vocal songs that kicked off right from the intro. It is a fantastic game a lot of voice acting (and includes a collection of outtakes and bloopers at the end, which get rather amusing).

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many RPGs on Playstation and so many I never played as a result. A few others I particularly enjoyed were Star Ocean: The Second Story, Wild Arms, Breath of Fire III, and Tales of Destiny. Chrono Cross was a good RPG, but came off feeling a little disappointing for me as a follow up to Chrono Trigger. Likewise, I enjoyed Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, but not as much as Silver Star Story.

Moving away from RPGs, Playstation pulled me far into a new genre: Survival Horror. I had been exposed to the genre with Alone in the Dark on PC, but didn’t get too far in that one. Now Resident Evil 2 truly dragged me into it. I learned to dread the “click click click” of Lickers and became paranoid of a sudden burst of glass with dogs or ravens coming for me. I really knew to be worried if I found a room with a ribbon, ammo, and herbs with a typewriter. This led me to go back to play the first one and I then continued with each main entry since.

Playstation also had Spider-Man, which was the first really good Spider-Man game (also available on N64) that let you climb the walls and ceilings as well as web swing on top of good combat. It was followed by the equally good Spider-Man: Enter Electro. While the games may not seem as good today, especially without an open world, they were absolutely great at their time. These games began the tradition of having unlockable costumes that I really hope continues on the new Playstation 4 game.

 

 

 

The last game to have the a long lasting impact on me from the Playstation is Metal Gear Solid. I most remember the trippy 4th wall break with Psycho Mantis being such a surprise. The solution was quite clever as well, though it drove me nuts figuring out the call frequency that’s given to you on the back of the case. The Metal Gear Solid theme is one of my favorite video game music pieces.

 

This line up is far from complete, though. I played Crash Bandicoot and was introduced to Spyro the Dragon on the system. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was a lot of fun as well. And yet despite all the good memories on Playstation, I still barely scratched the surface of what was available. As with every console I collect for, hopefully I’ll be able to get back to more of them some day.

That’s it for this entry. Next up, I’ll briefly discuss my time with the overshadowed Nintendo 64.

 

National Videogame Museum Opens Its Doors

The National Videogame Museum (NVM) opened in Frisco, TX on April 2, 2016. It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning. 10:00 AM, to be precise, was the opening of the doors. I was there and I was excited. Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to get to writing my thoughts on the grand opening of the nation’s, the world’s, first museum dedicated to the history of video games (I use “video game” though the museum officially uses “videogame”).

I had arrived at the Frisco Discovery Center, where the NVM is located, at 10:05 with a bit of a hurried step. I wanted to get in with plenty of time to look around as I was meeting someone in 3 hours to hand over some video games I had accumulated that weren’t going into my collection. I knew the doors opened at 10, so I went right in. And found the line. I followed the line outside again and saw just how many had arrived to see the history of their hobby.

There were a lot. The Museum holds about 240 people and the line was well out of the building and along the sidewalk, starting to curl around the build like a human formation of Nibbles.

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One or two people showed up

I stood in line with a mother whose 7 year old son was running around playing with other kids while they waited. Preston was here to see more about video game history, particularly Pac-Man and Galaga. I learned something from Preston’s mother in the hour we waited outside.

Pixels was a good movie. That’s right, Pixels.

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Yes, THAT Pixels.

Preston saw Pixels more than once in theaters and probably a dozen times at home since it released on blu-ray and DVD. Pixels introduced this young boy to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*bert, and made him want to learn more. He went to Google and began reading about these games and these characters and when they came out. He grew interested not only in the games themselves, but their history.

If a 7 year old boy loves a movie about video game characters, and that movie drives him to pursue the history of the industry, then I have to say the movie did something right. Adults and critics may not like it, but if it stirred the interest and curiosity of children, then it’s a good movie by my measure.

And so, there we were, at the first museum in the nation that would let him explore more of that history. TekForce was present and volunteered to provide music and MC the waiting room that we reached at 11 o’clock. I was able to speak with him a moment and learned that the museum was expecting 1,500 visitors for the grand opening day. In the first hour, they were adjusting expectations to 4,000. They underestimated how many people would come out for the grand opening.

As we waited for our ticket groups to be called there were pictures available to color, music played, and a couch set up with a Wii U and Super Mario Bros. available to play. Kids were having a great time. There was also trivia to win prizes – the question I was present for was regarding Pac-Man’s original name (The answer is Puck Man).

At 11:35, our ticket group was called up and we finally went into the NVM lobby to pay for our tickets to the museum proper. Tickets are $12 for adults, but include $1 worth of tokens for the arcade at the end of the museum. By noon, 2 hours after arrival, I finally set foot inside.

The Museum is divided into 16 stages, all of which cover a different portion of video game history.

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But first, you’re greeted by Mario

 

Stage 1, “Begin” covers the early days of video game history. In fact, with Ralph Baer’s “Brown Box Prototype” on display, it might be safe to say this touches on video game pre-history and then advances through history from there.

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An important aspect of the NVM is that it’s not just exhibits to look at and read. There are a lot of interactive features at the museum, mostly in the form of playable games in the exhibits. Almost every Stage has something you can play.

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Just like the one you grew up with, right?

Stage 2, “Timeline” is the most time consuming interactive option. With screens set up above oversized Super Nintendo controllers, this allows visitors to browse every single video game console ever released to get some information about them. Release year, MSRP, some highlighted games, as well as notorious games, and some of the most valuable on the system can be reviewed. There are 53 different consoles to read about, all of which are on display on the wall.

Stage 3, “Third Party” showcases a number of the third party titles that helped consoles excel with the public. Pitfall, which is playable in the exhibit, Stampede, Megamania, River Raid are on display in their original boxes in a display case while some notable Nintendo entries from Activision share the bottom shelf of the display with Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, Rampage, and more.

Stage 4, “Control” is, quite simply, a full wall with a history of controllers through the years. Multiple controllers from each system are displayed, as well as a disassembled Atari 5200 controller.

Stage 5, “Portable” explores portable games. Game n’ Watch is on display, along with others that pre-dated the Game Boy most think of when “portable gaming” is mentioned.

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Again, there are playable games set up here as well. However, one of the most notable items features in this display is the Barbie Edition Game Boy, which is an unreleased prototype Game Boy Pocket. Supposedly the deal never went through and only two of the systems, along with a gaudy carry case, were made.

Stage 6, “Crash” is ironically my favorite exhibit, despite its dark days in gaming history. It deals with the video game crash of 1983. The first thing I liked was the introduction plaque does detail that the cause of the crash is much more complicated than the simple examples often cited, but not without being self aware of these rumors. Poor E.T. still appears in the stage’s image, even though it’s acknowledged the game was not the cause.

What I really liked about this exhibit, though, was the “going out of business” store front. With various 80s items such as Pac Man trading cards and bubble gum under the glass, a Top 5 sign for the week’s hottest games (which includes E.T., I might add), and a sign indicating the store is going out of business, it’s a very nicely done presentation.

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I promise I was also NOT the cause of the crash.

Stage 7, “Rise” presents the return of video games, stronger than ever, on both computer and with the Nintendo Entertainment System. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of set ups are here to play and interact with.

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At this point, as you venture through the museum, you’ll find the bathrooms. Not exactly something you’d think worth mentioning, but this is the NATIONAL VIDEOGAME MUSEUM, so of course the bathroom entries are worth mentioning with their clever indication of “Men’s” and “Women’s” signs.

 

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Women’s

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Men’s

Stage 8, “Create” presents games moving from just being games and actually involving the user in the creative process. Games like Mario Paint are on display, but I wasn’t able to spend much time hands on (there were a lot of people here, remember?).

Stage 9, “Invent” presents a theoretical game studio’s office. Games adorn the shelves, a PC and work station are present, various articles and news clippings are framed on the walls.

Stage 10, “Transmit” discusses the rise of online gaming with various Blizzard entries, Quake, and two terminals that visitors can use to communicate and send a webcam image to each other on either side of the exhibit with.

Stage 11, “Listen” details music coming into games more with entries such as Parappa the Rapper and, of course, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.

Stage 12, “Unplugged” is likely to surprise many visitors with the various board games that were released based on video game properties. Frogger, Q*bert, Pac-Man, Legend of Zelda, and more are all on display.

Across from “Unplugged” is an exhibit showcasing various items. Systems, the Pokemon series, rare and valuable games, this section is an eclectic mix of things that didn’t belong to a single exhibit, but are definitely fun to look at.

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Before venturing to the next stage, there’s also an exhibit with various pieces of merchandise, including the wearable Mega Man helmet.

Stage 13, “Family” accurately portrays a family living room from the 1980s, with a console hooked up for play on the television, a fake plant, wood panel walls, and a Dogs Playing Poker painting on the wall! There are even family photos on display.

Stage 14, “Sanctuary” depicts a teen’s bedroom. Bear in mind, the NVM is in Frisco, Tx, so if you aren’t a Cowboys and Rangers fan, forgive the decor!

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A Pac-Man throw pillow, 80s movie posters, a record playing 80s music, and a Mario phone. It’s worth noting that the visitor I caught in this picture….still had trouble with the NES Zapper hitting the ducks in Duck Hunt.

Stage 15, “Respect” isn’t an exhibit so much as an art display. A cube art mural of Ralph Baer hangs near the conclusion of the museum tour.

Stage 16, “Bonus” is a collection of framed posters, displays, arcade machines, and a life size statue of Gabriel Belmont. Along the wall next to Stage 16 are a line of consoles, all of which had someone playing them. I did get to finally play a bit of Bonk’s Adventure on Turbo Grafx-16, though. Above the consoles is a mural with a number of recognizable video game characters.

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Stage 16 leads to an 80s style arcade to conclude the tour of the National Videogame Museum. The lights are dark and lit more by the neon marquees and the screens of video games than overhead light and it was packed with a person on just about every cabinet. A machine is in the arcade to give tokens for dollar bills in case your 4 tokens from entry aren’t enough to get your gaming fix.

Finally, you exit the arcade to find yourself in the gift shop. I didn’t look at everything, but overall they had some cool items in there. Some books particularly caught my eye and they were all priced reasonably compared to Amazon.

I’ve gone on for over 1700 words about this museum and don’t think I’ve scratched describing it. I was hopeful for this endeavor after visiting the “History of Videogames” exhibit at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, WA, but this is far beyond what was presented there.

The one thing I’d like to see NVM add if they are ever able to expand in size is to build a display library for every system. The curators, I believe, have only brought out a small part of their overall collection. I would love to see a glass display shelving every Atari or NES title in their boxes. In time, seeing every video game on every system lined up on shelves, their spines facing out would be truly a sight to see.

If conclusion, if you’re in the DFW area in Texas and have time to get to Frisco, the National Videogame Museum is well worth your time. I only had a couple of hours available and don’t feel like it was remotely enough time. I’m looking forward to going back with friends when they come into town, but I might have to sneak an extra trip before they make it.

My only hope is that they get repeat business and are able to stay open for a long time to come. Video games have become a huge part of our culture, both in America and across the globe, and it’s great to see a museum preserving and sharing their history.

 

Never Alone

A tale of a girl and a fox

I’ve been meaning to play Never Alone for a while now. I had it saved on Steam, and I’m not a Steam user, nor am I a PC Gamer, to be honest. It interested me, though, to have a game that’s intended to present a story of a native Iñupiaq people and bring a little bit of their culture to a larger world. With it being on sale, I picked it up on PS4 this past weekend. My regret is that I didn’t play it sooner.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past year about diversity in video games. In my opinion, games like Never Alone are an example of how games can grow and expand into new areas to share experiences with people across cultures. I’d describe the game as a fairly simple platform puzzle game that focuses more on sharing with the player than challenging them. It was a short, enjoyable game, that can be played alone by swapping between the arctic fox and the girl or co-op with each player controlling one or the other.

Graphics
I really enjoyed the gameplay graphics. There was a nice blend of slick modern capability with stylization of some characters such as the Owlman or the Manslayer while Nuna and her arctic fox have an almost Pixar quality to them.

While often simple, the backgrounds are quite smooth and a pleasure to look at. Unless you’re being chased by a polar bear.

Upper One Games did a good job with the view of the screen as well. There’s a slight blur around the edges and corners at times, setting a mood of looking through the blizzard that Nuna and the fox are braving in their adventure.

Between levels, the story is told using cut scenes employing an artistic style drawn from traditional scrimshaw. Some won’t care for this, but I particularly liked it.

Controls
The controls can be a bit frustrating, particularly with the bola, but otherwise I didn’t have much trouble with the game. Jumping was responsive and I only found myself moving wrong when I got impatient. Honestly, impatience is your biggest enemy in this game. There are only certain times that urgency is needed and something is chasing you. Most of my deaths were caused by me trying to rush and not waiting to observe the patterns of spirits or the movements of ice. Much like the lessons taught to children in Alaska, ignoring the natural world around you can have dire consequences. Slow down, observe, and then act appropriately and you will avoid a lot of frustrations during your adventure through a blizzard in Alaska.

Music
I can’t say too much about the soundtrack for Never Alone. It was pleasant enough, but not memorable or striking to me. I would have enjoyed if Upper One Games had incorporated more traditional music into it and explored that more. There is a video on the importance of the drum in the culture, but not too much.

I will note, though, that I found the yaps and grumbles of the fox quite adorable.

Difficulty
The game isn’t hard, really. If you die, you start pretty much right where you went wrong and can try again infinitely until you finish. There aren’t many enemies and you only have to defeat one while the others are about finding ways out of the predicament you find yourself in. The game isn’t long either, taking only about 3 hours to complete with all extra items found, which open videos about the Iñupiaq.

Conclusion
The lack of challenge isn’t a detriment in this case; not for me, at least. Never Alone is more about telling a story and giving you insight into the culture and history of an entire people. In that respect, it’s a fine game. I enjoyed the puzzles, particularly where you had to scramble up walls and leap off of them as the fox in order to open a path for the girl, Nuna. However, I found myself enjoying the story quite a bit and any gameplay was largely driven by an interest to hear the entire tale.

There is even a moment where something happens that sort of made my heart sink. When a simple 3-hour game with a little narrative and no real dialog from the protagonist can have an emotional effect, even if only a slight one, I would say that’s a success. Then again, I may also be a big softie at this point.

Narrated in the Iñupiaq language with English subtitles, there was a certain feel of authenticity (it should, they worked with members of the Iñupiaq, one of whom narrates) and interweaving the videos into the game added some depth to it. Hearing actual stories from native Alaskans about their grandfather’s pet arctic fox or a brother’s pet polar bear were really interesting. I recommend watching the videos as you find them during the playthrough rather than waiting until you’re done.

Never Alone, or, Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (“I am not alone”), is a video game telling a story in an interactive method of traditional Iñupiaq storytelling. As players learn, these stories were often told to teach lessons to children about the world and about their people’s history and culture. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from Never Alone as well. Video games can help us view other cultures and their stories as well, and even better understand their history. If one is to play the game and take their time, one may also learn a lesson of patience and enjoying some simplicity, even in a video game amidst our current level of graphics and AAA titles.

I look forward to more games similar to Never Alone from Upper One Games and if they were able to make an ongoing career from short games like this that let us look at other cultures and stories from around the world, I think I’d be willing to play every one of them.

If you have the chance and can get this at a price that seems reasonable, I do recommend giving it a try.

Then again, considering the name of the site, I may also have a soft spot for games featuring foxes.

How Resident Evil’s Horror Could Survive

Capcom has been going in new directions with Resident Evil for a while now with mixed results.  After being one of the most well known series in the survival horror genre with Resident Evil 1-3 and Code Veronica, Resident Evil was always an anticipated release when a new installment was announced.  The Resident Evil REmake and Resident Evil 0 were well received on GameCube and a Resident Evil 2 REmake is one of the most fan requested games out there.

But with Resident Evil 4, Capcom switched to over the shoulder gameplay rather than the old clunky “tank control” scheme, yet 4 was still highly praised despite getting away from Umbrella Corporation’s T-Virus.  That warm reception wasn’t waiting for Resident Evil 5, which followed Chris Redfield and his new partner Shiva in Africa where the T-Virus’s origins were first discovered and Umbrella as fans came to know it was born (which las plagas from Resident Evil 4 still factored in).  Resident Evil 5 split fans as the game seemed to get further away from its survival horror roots and go more towards an action game.  Resident Evil 6 had fans hopeful with the apparent return to a city devastated by a new outbreak similar to Raccoon City, but while the game started with more familiar elements of survival horror, it started showing signs of action. When the game picks up with Chris Redfield, it’s more of that action game style with giants stomping through cities and battles of 2 men against tanks.  The final chapter takes it even further with motorcyles outrunning tanks and jumping over helicopters and a plane crashing into a city before a fresh outbreak of a new virus.

Resident Evil has been going bigger and bigger like a Hollywood action film. Explosions are more frequent than tense jump scares as Capcom has sought to pursue a more broad audience.  Left in its wake are the faithful fans who still long for survival horror like Resident Evil was built upon.

Resident Evil Revelations 2 is supposed to be a return to survival horror while still using the over the shoulder model and hopefully Capcom gets it right.  We’ll see how that pans out in February 2015, but in the meantime, here are a few things that I think Capcom should do with the series to get it back on track.

1. Start over but continue forward
Fans are familiar with the established characters of Resident Evil.  Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Rebecca Chambers, Leon Kennedy, Claire Redfield, and Albert Whesker are the familiar faces the series follows, but that may also be detrimental at this point as well.  These characters are likewise familiar with these events. While they tried to give Chris some PTSD elements, he’s overall able to push through and Leon has become so hardened to bioweapons he’s pretty much a specialist specifically for such operations.

For that reason, I think it’s time to get away from bioweapons being common and time for the old cast to step aside for new characters.  For Resident Evil 7, I would set the game about 5-10 years after Resident Evil 6.  After the incident in China, almost all nations around the globe unified to outlaw the research on bioweapons and aggressively hunted down any cells still continuing work from the days of Umbrella (and Neo-Umbrella was just a ridiculous name).  Essentially start the game in a world where the events of Resident Evil 1-6 are a dark mark in human history but no indication of such things have been seen for years now.

Set the game anywhere you like, though I would likely pick a more remote country – perhaps somewhere in South America. Perhaps an Interpol task force or a drug taskforce infiltrate a compound on information of a major drug production operation.  During the infiltration, something goes wrong and only a handful make it into the facility (yes, mirroring the set up of the original Resident Evil).  As they begin to investigate the facility, they find out a group has been doing research from the ground up based off Umbrella’s T-Virus and have successfully recreated it.  Thus we are thrown back into a game where the protagonist is just as terrified as the player is when creatures start coming at them rather than cool and collected and the player is dealing with claustrophobic corridors, zombie workers, undead dogs, spiders, rats, or whatever creatures you like, and a few mutants as well.  Perhaps you can even bring back a new version of Tyrant if you really wanted.

The key point is to get back to basics of the plot and have this scenario be completely new to the characters in the story so they have reason to be terrified.  Sure, people would have still heard of these things, but even 5 years after the China incident, a 25 year old operative would have been in college and possibly less than concerned with such events.  It yields itself for fear from the characters and if done well, that fear will be passed on to the player as the new research can be completely unknown and with enough variations the game can keep players unsure of what to expect.

2. Over the shoulder, under pressure

The over the shoulder perspective worked well in Resident Evil 4 and has worked well ever since on its own.  Slow moving zombies are easy to get headshots on when you’re able to aim reliably.  But 6 headshots only kills 6 zombies if there’s a dozen shambling towards you and your 6 shooter is slow to reload or worse, you only have 20 bullets to your name and have no clue what’s in the next hallway.

That’s a bit key to survival horror in my opinion.  Limited resources and inventory management.  In a game like Resident Evil 4-6 where you’re moving forward, I understand the need to suspend disbelief and have magical storage units that hold items, but having a dozen guns on your person is a bit much.  Bring back the limited inventory and the storage chests with their own limited inventory.  If the facility we’re in is designed so it makes sense, don’t even have the storage units share inventory and make players have to go back to retrieve what they stashed.

That sense of “did I bring the right weapon and do I have enough ammo” helps build tension as you open one more door or go down one more dark set of stairs.  In Resident Evil 6, having “enough” ammo was okay because you’d be able to blast through the zombies or monsters and collect more ammo from their body to keep blasting away.  In the old Resident Evil games, realizing you were at max capacity on two weapons and just found three more boxes of bullets actually instilled a bit of fear because “Why are they giving me this much ammo? Oh no, what’s about to come after me?!”

3. Bruce Lee doesn’t train zombie defense
This one is a problem we brought upon ourselves.  In the old tank control Resident Evil games, we were always grumbly about having to wildly swing a knife when we were low on ammo.  Why couldn’t we side kick a zombie in the chest? Why couldn’t we have any form of hand to hand combat?

Well, we eventually got it and it honestly made the games trivial enough that survival wasn’t a big deal.  Even without the abundance of zombies dropping ammo, you could conserve a lot by taking two shots and then giving a round house to splatter a zombies head, or deliver a running bulldog worthy of Rick Steiner from WWE.  If you can take out monsters without guns, why worry?

Having this be a new recruit on the team would make the idea of going hand to hand against creatures willing to bite your face off a bit outlandish.  And if they’ve only gone through basic hand to hand, they aren’t in a position to reliably fight off these creatures anyway, giving a reasonable excuse for removing the feature and putting us back to relying on our ever diminished ammunition and somewhat unreliable knife, or maybe a collapsible baton this time. Just cuz…

4. We can still acknowledge our favorite characters

Just because a new character is green behind the ears and about ready to soil himself over this horror he’s stumbled into doesn’t mean we can’t give him some reassurance now and then.  After managing to find a radio, you could get word out reporting what you’ve found.  Later on, your next opportunity to try and make radio contact could be none other than Leon Kennedy, Jill Valentine, or any other of the familiar characters. While not on site with you, they could offer some insight and advice to the new character, encouraging him to keep it together and make it through this alive while they marshal resources to get there.

5. And don’t go straight into the same problem again

At the end of the game, why not have the problem unresolved and even escalating?  Why not have the protagonist stop the researchers at the facility in this game only to radio into HQ at the end to tell them he’s found there are other facilities set up and something worse.  Our final scene could show that the virus has already somehow been spread to contaminate a nearby city.

And that easily sets you up to go right into Resident Evil 8 with an outbreak in a city just like Resident Evil 2.  And again like Resident Evil 2, why not go even worse than Leon’s predicament? Why not have a protagonist that isn’t part of any organization or organized force? Perhaps a retired police officer, or even just a random citizen trying to survive this.  You could have your new character from the previous game arrive and split the game between the two like the old games used to at times and you could again have our established characters remotely involved or arrive late.  For that matter, I’d have them running clean up and just a few steps behind to contain the situation before it gets out of hand so all their specialized skills and knowledge aren’t enough to prevent the horror from breaking out again.

I’d even consider it worth thinking about having each game take place with a new character who may come into contact with familiar characters, and only rarely have the game mostly focus on familiar characters arriving to work in a new location.

Conclusion:

I’ll admit some of this might come across as just re-visiting Resident Evil 1 and 2 with new characters and a new location, but I think that’s almost what Capcom should do at this point.  By going forward without a reboot, it lets fans of the series continue on while also introducing those old games’ style of survival horror elements to a generation that never played the old games.  A generation of gamers never played the Playstation entries and likely have no interest in doing so, which would make this a new experience for them while nostalgia would likely make these worthwhile, yet still different enough, to be interesting for old players.

Backlog Review: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

It’s been almost a year since Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag released and I just recently got around to playing it.  I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who, like me, have a bit of a back log of games to play (My back log is dozens if not 100 games across all systems).  I’m actually happy Dragon Age Inquisition is delayed until November.  It gives me just a little more time to catch up on a few games, not to mention Final Fantasy XIV should be letting me play ninja by then.

That said, I have to say AC IV: Black Flag is pretty fun.  I know there are detractors out there who don’t like the Assassin’s Creed series coming out annually with pretty much the same gameplay with a few additions here and there.  Honestly it doesn’t bother me too much.  The formula works well enough, so I don’t feel it’s necessary to reinvent the wheel with each game.  Using the same basic formula with a few new bells and whistles here and there is perfectly fine by me if the story is good and the game play is fun.  After all, Mega Man did alright coming out on an annual basis (with an extra year between a couple of them).

The sailing feature from Assassin’s Creed III proved popular so Ubisoft built ACIV around it even more.  I actually enjoyed it in III and it’s still fun in Black Flag.  There’s no shortage of things to do outside of the main story as well.  With treasures spread about the Caribbean, buried treasure to find, a ship to upgrade, equipment to upgrade with crafting, and a home base to upgrade similar to past games, there’s a lot of things to spend your time on.  I haven’t used the Fast Travel option much since it’s fulfilling enough to choose plenty of extra stops on the way to the next main mission.  And of course there are always ships to come across to attack and pillage for loot.  The life of a pirate, yo ho.

Combat hasn’t gotten a real upgrade, mostly the same as we’ve seen before.  I have to say it’s enjoyable to see a dual wielding character this time, though. The new animations are fun to watch that movie-inspired swashbuckling flair.

I’m not too far through the story, but I do like the slight change. Edward Kenway is not an Assassin nor a Templar. He is truly just a pirate, though he’s gotten mixed up in the plot of Templar vs Assassin.  Granted, this does raise the question of how he seems to have all the Assassins’ skill set without any training, but let’s just let that slide for game play sake.  I’ve been told by a friend the story is a bit weaker than the others and seems it could be a bit shorter.  I am a bit unclear on why they decided to call it Assassin’s Creed IV rather than only the subtitle “Black Flag” since it seems like the game is more of a resolution of AC III tying up some plot threads.  The main character is the grandfather of Connor and outside of Edward’s story the Abstergo Entertainment plot seems to be tying up the last of Desmond’s story.  In contrast, we have Assassin’s Creed: Unity coming out this year, not Assassin’s Creed V: Unity.

Overall, if you enjoyed past Assassin’s Creed games, I think you’ll enjoy Black Flag.  If you haven’t played any of the Assassin’s Creed games, Black Flag isn’t a bad one to hop into since there’s not as much intertwined back story from previous games to worry about too much.  Set sails on the open seas and live the life of a pirate.  Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Xbox One Error: Leveraging Lara Croft against Nathan Drake

Microsoft dropped a bit of a bombshell on everyone at Gamescom this year when they announced Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider sequel ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ would be an exclusive release on Xbox One.  Gamers predictably reacted less than unanimously in favor of Microsoft’s announcement.  Why would gamers be upset?  Isn’t console exclusive titles par for the course?  Well, yes and no.  There’s a few reasons this was a bad move for Crystal Dynamics but equally bad for Microsoft.

For the week of August 9th, VGChartz has PS4 sales at 9.4 million units (though Sony stated at Gamescom it has sold over 1- million now) against the 5.1 million units Xbox One has sold.  For that same week, not a single Xbox One title appeared on the global top 10 software chart.  To be fair, PS4 only had one title, but it was #1 with ‘The Last of Us Remastered.’  PS4 is doubling Xbox One sales globally and even outselling the console in the US, which has traditionally been Xbox One faithful as it’s Microsoft’s home turf.  In fact, more than a few weeks, even the WiiU has sold more units globally than Xbox One.

It’s clear Microsoft is feeling the need to lock in some major titles and gain some ground in the latest round of the “console wars” and it’s looking for a strong system seller to help gain that ground.  WiiU has seen a surge after E3 with some strong titles announced and Mario Kart’s release for the system.  It’s no secret that a handful of strong games can really move systems.  However, Rise of the Tomb Raider is not the game that can launch Xbox One back into the game with a vengeance.  In fact, I think the announcement further hurt Microsoft.

Microsoft has erred and made misstep after misstep since Xbox One was revealed.  With the unveiling spending the vast majority of their time talking about television connections that many users outside the US would be unable to benefit from, television productions they’d be working on with Steven Spielberg, and sports sports sports (that gamers outside the US wouldn’t really care about), Microsoft concluded the system’s unveiling leaving gamers vocal about feeling left out in the cold as an afterthought.  It didn’t help that there were features announced that made gamers very uncomfortable.  No more used games and a heavy handed DRM policy set the Interwebz ablaze with outrage over Microsoft trying to control gamers and dictate how much they actually owned what they purchased.

E3 came around and it was time for Microsoft to right the ship and get gamers back on their side. Instead, they continued to insist their vision was the future of gaming and their system was designed with their vision in mind.  Angry Joe even asked Major Nelson directly about turning off some of these features and was told with quite certainty that it wasn’t so easy to just deactivate these systems.  The Kinect would be always on, you had to be always connected or at least check in once per day for your games to function, there would be no disc after installation and used games would not be an option unless possibly paying for an activation code which rumors had spread of costing almost as much as a new game.  Microsoft tried to promote the idea of sharing one’s games with friends so friends didn’t have to buy it, but full explanation of this feature, which some believed to be a glorified demo program, was never given.

Some gamers defended Microsoft, pointing to Steam and its frequent sales (which will bleed you dry faster than buying new games because, honestly, how do you say no to some of those deals?) as an example of what Microsoft was trying to do.  The problem, however, is Microsoft never indicated anything of the sort.  And therein lies the problem with Microsoft’s build up to the launch of the Xbox One: they had the most disastrous public relations team in recent memory.  It wasn’t necessarily that their plans were bad, but their legal caution and double speak, their reluctance to commit to answering gamers’ biggest concerns and questions, and their overall attitude that they knew what gamers wanted more than gamers came off extremely arrogant and seeming like they were hiding something.  There was no sense of a clear vision and a road map into the future they were wanting to go towards that they were willing to share.  And that makes people nervous.

Jump ahead more than a year later and Microsoft walked right into the same scenario with this announcement for Rise of the Tomb Raider.  They announced it was going to be released exclusive to Xbox One in holiday 2015.  People were stunned and confused.  Tomb Raider was, and has always been, and multi-platform title. The original Tomb Raider was on Playstation and PC.  Later games were on PS2 and Xbox.  PS3 and Xbox 360.  And most all of them on PC.  The Tomb Raider reboot was on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC and the Definitive Edition sold on PS4 more than 2:1 against Xbox One sales.  Yet Microsoft was announcing that they had struck a deal with Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix to make the sequel exclusive to their system in 2015.

Gamers have become a savvy bunch and they, and gaming press, were quick to latch on to Microsoft being careful to include “holiday 2015” or just “2015” in their comments about the exclusivity.  It became frustrating, however, when they were asked directly if this was a timed exclusive and Microsoft representatives would only repeat the press release lines of “exclusive to Xbox One in holiday 2015.”  It was the same “something to hide” sensation they had given with E3 the previous year.  Eventually, a few days later, Microsoft would acknowledge they didn’t have an exclusive deal in perpetuity, but gamers were already irritated with the announcement.  Even Xbox faithfuls in some forums were baffled by the decision and many simply felt it wasn’t right to take a multi-platform game and lock the sequel into an exclusive agreement, though many on both sides were willing to grumpily accept it as a timed exclusive.

Needless to say, many gamers were upset with Microsoft over this situation and I don’t really think it was entirely the exclusivity.  That was a large part of it, for sure.  PS4 owners bought a lot more copies of the Definitive Edition than Xbox One owners and their reward was “sorry, you can’t have the sequel” from what the initial announcement indicated.  It gave the impression that Microsoft was not willing to invest in developing games so much as throwing money at developers to try and buy their way to victory.  It just felt like a cheap shot, or as most comments I read put it “a dick move.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, if Microsoft would have come out better in the whole deal if they would have just come clean and been up front and honest out of the gate.  Announce that holiday 2015 would see Rise of the Tomb Raider release first on Xbox One as a holiday exclusive and leave it at that, perhaps throw in a tongue in cheek remark about Lara having teamed with Xbox One to show “that other guy” how adventuring is done.  It was made pretty clear this was their way of competing with Uncharted, why not just admit that in a smile and wink kind of way?

Sony has really excelled with their marketing and PR this generation.  They’ve joined the gamers in taking shots at their competition, though I think Sony does it far more playfully than their fans tend to.  He took a shot at Square Enix saying they wanted Tomb Raider to be uncharted – not on the charts – by limiting it to the smaller installation base.  He took a shot at his own company saying he thought they were revealing nine PS Vita games at Gamescom, but it was actually nein.  He even recently commented on twitter that PSN had released “PSN Outage: Remastered” as the remaster of the 2011 network issues “in glorious HD” with the DDOS attacks PSN suffered this weekend.  Some may find it to be taking issues too lightly or attacking his competition, but I think it’s gone a long way to make Sony feel like “one of us” among gamers while Microsoft has come across more and more as the greedy corporation that cares about money instead of making fun games.

Regardless of Microsoft’s strategy and the public’s perception of them with Xbox One, Rise of the Tomb Raider is not a system seller.  Sony has been pushing to present major announcements and exclusives to their system.  Bloodborne, The Order, Uncharted are all Playstation exclusives.  They revealed the Hideo Kojima/Guillermo del Toro Silent Hills project with a playable teaser available for download at announcement.  They’re still presenting themselves as a huge partner to indie developers.  They’re coming across as a company that has learned from past mistakes and understand what gamers want.  Microsoft seems like they’ve lost sight of their system as a gaming console in their push for all-in-one entertainment.

I’ve admittedly never been an Xbox fan and I’ve always felt Microsoft has made a chief focus of their strategy to be “throw money at it until we win,” so this feels like more of the same, but that doesn’t make me feel justified or righteous for my opinion on them.  A weak Xbox One will likely lead to a complacent PS4, just as a strong Xbox 360 forced a struggling PS3 to step up what it had to offer.  The disappointing thing in this is they’ve recently announced lay offs and their forecast for original IPs exclusive to their system remain slim.  Microsoft needs to put their money into some system exclusive games that are new for them rather than paying off third parties for limited time sequel exclusives.

Essentially, Microsoft needs to find the right developer or do it in-house and find their Mario Kart 8.