Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An interview with Sid Meier

GameInformer has recently done an interview with one of PC Gaming's Gods, the legendary Sid Meier. The title of the interview is "The Future of Strategy Games" but unfortunately, they don't really talk too much about the future of strategy gaming, at least not in much detail (unless you consider saying there is potential for strategy games to be on tablet PCs).

Anyway, here's a summary of some interesting points Sid Meier mentions:

  • Sid Meier's role nowadays involves a lot of prototyping of new games
  • Sid Meier prefers to always focus on gameplay and he doesn't like games being "run by committee". He would gladly get rid of cutscenes if it distracts from the gameplay
  • Using today's technology to provide fancy graphics is a double-edged sword according to Sid Meier. Sid prefers his players to use their imagination and allow themselves to believe they're ruling an empire to stand the test of time. However he concedes that not many players are willing to make that investment nowadays.
  • Civilization is such a rich topic that they've definitely not exhausted (so I guess that means the Civ series is here to stay?)
  • Sid says the challenge with Civ games is not struggling to find what to put in, but what to keep out.
  • Civilization is such a rich topic that they've definitely not exhausted (so I guess that means the Civ series is here to stay?)
  • GameInformer's interviewer asked what Sid's response was to Civ V's polarising reaction. He provided a diplomatic response saying that the fact fans are complaining, the fact they care enough about the game to do so is actually gratifying. He says Firaxis will continue to innovate the series and some changes fans will like, others they won't. However, he appreciates all commentary, positive and negative, since it's better having lots of comments than no comments at all.

Choicest VGM - VGM #48 - Wing Commander - Briefing and Launch

This tense, brooding track was played whenever a briefing cutscene was played, shortly followed by your character scrambling to his fighter. I don't quite know why it was always a red alert when you boarded your fighter for launch but maybe the captain liked to keep his crew on their toes!

Many thanks to the Wing Commander fansite Wing Commander Combat Information Centre where you're able to download heaps of Wing Commander related media.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The 15 Most Frustrating Situations in Videogames

A Dorkly article has hit the nail on the head on the most frustrating situations in video games. See if you can attempt to name a game where you've personally experienced all these situations!

Not realizing you’re fighting enemies that will respawn indefinitely and wasting all your health and ammo trying to finish them all off

I believe the Call of Duty games were usually like this. You'd end up killing endless waves of baddies, only to realise you're wasting your time!

Running out of inventory slots

Several games have this problem occurring - usually in RPGs. While Skyrim may have the space issued sorted, unfortunately you're still limited by how much you can carry if the total load is too heavy... Of course the way you got around this issue in games like Diablo, for example, was to create another character to carry all your stuff known as a "mule". In the game Dungeon Siege, they took this joke to the next level of course, giving you an actual mule to store your goodies.

Finding out your PC can’t run a game you just bought

This actually happened to me once I'm embarassed to say, however in my defence, the game in question was pretty harsh in that it actually prevented you from even trying to run the game if your DirectX version wasn't high enough. I'm talking about Deus Ex: Invisible War of course. Annoying, but at least it gave me the justification to upgrade the computer...

Getting killed while doing a move you didn’t mean to do

The biggest culprit for this particular annoyance was those old Sierra adventure games. Each of those games probably had a 100+ ways that you could accidentally die. One of the most memorable for me was in King's Quest V where if you fall of a ledge, you end up dying. However, the particular section I fell off only happened to be a foot off the ground, and it still ended up in King Graham's untimely demise.

  • "Cedric the Owl: No Graham! Don't!"
  • "Graham as he falls one foot to his death: YAAAARRGH!"

Dying because of a bug

There's probably more instances of me not being able to continue the game because of a bug than dying but there's been plenty. In the online gaming world, especially in the Battlefield games, you could sometimes become stuck in the terrain. Now you know why there's a suicide button...

Almost done sneaking through a level then getting spotted by everyone at the end

Lots of games have this issue - I suspect it could be especially annoying in games like Thief. However, if you're able to save whenever, I think this one is a minor annoyance. If you can't save... well that's a whole different kettle of fish!

Returning to an RPG months later and having no idea what you’re doing

This one is a good one. It's actually one of my pet peeves with the Elder Scrolls games. These games are so huge that it takes a very long time to finish. However, you have to do it in one sitting (or over a month at least) since if you don't, you'll return back to the game and go "WTF is going on?"

Having to install 25 updates the first time you turn on the game

This frustrating scenario is definitely a sign of the times. Thanks to the Internet, this gives an excuse for developers to be sloppy and release the game riddled with bugs (okay to be fair it's probably the fault of the publishers). This results in several bug releases post-release - some right after release. I believe half the games I've played this year have required updates immediately after release (and not just small ones either).

Escort missions

As Dorkly says, this is especially annoying when the person you're trying to escort gets in your line of fire. It's like they actually want you to shoot them... It's even worse when you've created a character that relies on stealth to either silently takedown enemies or bypass them altogether since now you've got an incompetent dimwit going "look at me! I'm over here! Oh the hero is just beside me too."

Having to restart an entire mission because some stupid NPC caught a stray bullet

I've actually done this recently in Skyrim. I was meant to save one of the Companions but ended up taking him out since I thought he was an enemy (hey I don't get the critical strike/sneak attack bonus if I don't shoot first!).

Having to backtrack for hours because you missed an item or key somewhere

This used to be a huge problem in the old adventure game days, especially old Sierra adventures. You'd be happily solving puzzles almost finishing the game only to hit a brick wall and not quite knowing why.

Screwing yourself over by saving your game at a bad time

One of the most memorable examples of this experience for me was whilst playing the original Call of Duty, I believe. It was one of the British missions and I happened to save the game in the bunker (or perhaps it auto-saved?). Anyway, little did I realise that a tank was just about to fire a shell in said bunker so almost everytime I loaded, two seconds afterwards it was instant death for me. Fortunately after several attempts I managed to find a safe corner so that I didn't die completely and I was able to continue with the mission.

A glitch prevents you from progressing

I believe I mentioned about this one when talking about dying because of a bug. These ones are far more frequent and are probably even more frustrating (since you can't finish the game - ARGH!). This happened to me most recently playing Dreamfall - a feeling of disappointment ensued.

Dying when you haven’t saved

I make it a pretty good habit to save the game. So much so I save at the wrong points (as mentioned in one of the previous paragraphs). However, it's actually sometimes a good sign when you forget to save a game since it shows you're so engrossed in a game you've lost track of time (and your save game routine).

Accidentally hitting “yes” when an NPC asks you if you need them to repeat entire explanation

Oh this happens a lot in adventure games and RPGs. You're trying to skip through a conversation you've already heard several times before but then due to your incessant clicking, manage to select the option that repeats the conversation... again.

Anyway, kudos to Dorkly for running this article. I'm sure most gamers can recall a time they've encountered these frustrating scenarios!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mass Effect 3 multiplayer trailer released

Multiplayer is looking pretty awesome, at least from the little they showed in the trailer. Nothing really shown about game mechanics but it looks like you can play as the following races when picking a character for multiplayer:

  • Human
  • Turian
  • Drell
  • Salarian
  • Asari
  • Quarian
  • Krogan

Which race will you pick? (You may even be able to have one of each if this run-down on ME3 multiplayer is to be believed)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where to buy Diablo III and Mass Effect 3 in Australia

You may recall that I already ran of these articles for Mass Effect 3 although it was quite awhile ago so it doesn't hurt to revisit. Besides, I haven't done an analysis for Diablo III and while it may be true that there is officially no word about the release date, stores are already detailing what the Collector's Edition will contain, so release can't be too far off.

Anyway, let us see how much everyone is charging for these two games shall we?

Mass Effect 3 Standard Edition
  • EB = $88 (actually an Omni-Blade Edition where you get an inflatable Omni-Blade, a tin cover and in-game rifle)
  • GAME = $78
  • Origin = $80 (weapon unlocks included)

The Mass Effect 3 N7 Collector's Edition comes with a tin case, artwork, in-game items, a fabric patch, lithograph, extended soundtrack, comic book, additional missions and avatars. Since Origin's version is digital though, it obviously doesn't get the physical stuff like a tin case and fabric patch.

Mass Effect 3 N7 Collector's Edition
  • EB = $108
  • GAME = $110
  • JB = $109
  • Origin = $99

If you're concerned purely about price and don't care about any of the extra stuff, it would seem buying from GAME is the way to go.

If you want most of the goodies and don't care about physical items, you can grab Origin's Collector's Edition at $99. Otherwise, it probably doesn't matter who you get it from (as they're all roughly the same price), however EB is the cheapest.

Now on to Diablo III

Diablo III Standard Edition
  • EB = $88
  • GAME = $89
  • JB = $79

The Diablo III Collector's Edition contains a Behind the Scenes DVD, soundtrack, artwork, in-game items for Diablo III, Starcraft II and World of Warcraft, and a 4GB USB drive with Diablo II and the Lord of Destruction expansion on it.

Diablo III Collector's Edition
  • EB = $139
  • GAME = $139
  • JB = $137

JB seems to be the best bet for the standard and Collector's Edition for Diablo III.

Choicest VGM - VGM #47 - Swing Commander (Shotglass's Bar)

Amongst all the epic sci-fi military tracks in Wing Commander, there is one little jazzy number that is played when you're visiting Shotglass's Bar; it's the place where all the cool cats from the Tiger's Claw hang out (get it? cats? Tiger's Claw? ah never mind).

Many thanks to the Wing Commander fansite Wing Commander Combat Information Centre where you're able to download heaps of Wing Commander related media

Monday, January 23, 2012

Choicest VGM - VGM #46 - Wing Commander - Main Theme

Considering I reviewed the grand-daddy of cinematic space sims, Wing Commander recently (notice I entered "cinematic" - Elite is probably considered the true grand-daddy of space sims...) and since I'm up to 1990 games for my Choicest VGM series, why not add some Wing Commander tracks in there?

It was actually quite a challenge finding some good quality tracks for this game as most of what is out there are low-quality MIDIs and they probably only sound good if you've got a Roland MT-32. Fortunately there are some higher quality renditions of some of the tracks and these are what are included for Choicest VGM.

First off we have noneother than the main theme. This version I nabbed is quite a bit different to how I remember although it's probably the best digital rendition I've heard (how awesome would it be to hear this tune played by a live orchestra though?)

Many thanks to the Wing Commander fansite Wing Commander Combat Information Centre where you're able to download heaps of Wing Commander related media

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Soundtrack - Augmented Edition Review

  • Name: Deus Ex: Human Revolution Augmented Edition Soundtrack
  • Label: Square Enix
  • Composer(s): Michael McCann
  • Number of Tracks: 12

Before I get into the review, thought I'd just raise the caveat that the soundtrack I'm talking about is the Augmented Edition soundtrack. I've just discovered that there is also a separate (more complete) soundtrack you can grab off iTunes, but since I don't use iTunes, it's not really going to matter to me!

Anyway, as I mentioned, I managed to grab this soundtrack from purchasing the Augmented Edition of Deus Ex: Human Revolution which is an extra $10 more than the standard edition (you also manage to get other bonus content so the value of the soundtrack is probably more like $5). There aren't many tracks on this soundtrack, only 12 which is really more of a sampler, but most of the tracks you have here are pretty high quality, with the exception of the sleazy HongHua Brothel track that consists of women moaning. Sure the dance track is decent and I guess it's appropriate (it's a track about a brothel after all) just don't expect me to be blaring this track on full through my speakers!

Usually computer game soundtracks have lots of filler tracks but this isn't the case with the DX:HR Augmented Edition soundtrack, partly because it's a sampler, and partly because Michael McCann does an awesome job of setting the mood for a cyberpunk classic. All the music is electronica but they tend to incorporate a lot of orchestral and choral samples as well, giving an epic, futuristic, and almost spiritual feel to some of the tracks. Which would make sense, considering the game is all about deciding the fate of the human race - that's some pretty serious stuff right there!

My favourite tracks would have to be Icarus (the Main theme), the Main Menu theme, Detroit City Ambient Part 1, And Away We Go and Everybody Lies (which as you may note is almost half the album).

Score - 7/10

If you don't have Deus Ex: HR but are planning to get it, you can upgrade to the Augmented Edition to grab this soundtrack. Otherwise, it's a trip to iTunes to nab the more complete version :).

Choicest VGM - VGM #45 - Ultima 6 - Ultima Theme

The final Ultima 6 track we have is noneother than the Ultima Theme itself. It's a really heroic and epic theme, and sounds even better on a Roland MT-32 (which I never had the pleasure of using when I originally played this game).

What a great way to send-off the Ultima 6 entries in Choicest VGM! Stay tuned for more VGM from 1990 PC games.

Many thanks to Tom's Ultima MT-32 MP3 Collection where you're able to download high-quality Roland MT-32 versions of the original themes.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wing Commander Review

Those of you who regularly read the blog may remember my previous retro review on the blog being Wing Commander: Privateer. Now I’m going further back with the very game that started the series, the original Wing Commander. This game was released back in 1990 (hard to believe, but that’s over 20 years ago) by one of my favourite developers of the time, Origin (who are also responsible for the Ultima series).

You may be asking why I revisited this old classic in the first place. Well during my holidays I wanted a game I could play for only a few minutes at a time (between the eating, sleeping and sightseeing) that would also run on my netbook. Consequently, Wing Commander seemed like a perfect choice as it only took a few minutes per mission and it wasn’t like a fully fledged RPG which would require immense levels of concentration.

Plot (4/5)
Wing Commander is set in the future where Humans, under a Terran Confederation, are fighting for survival against the aggressive, feline aliens known as the Kilrathi. You play a space fighter pilot recently assigned to the carrier Terran Confederation Ship (TCS) Tiger’s Claw. Through the course of the game you fly missions in what is known as the Vega Sector against the Kilrathi.

It’s your typical space opera fare, but true to Origin’s credo, “We create worlds”, the world seems very real thanks to the banter you have with your comrades and also the excellent manual which is disguised as a TCS Tiger’s Claw newsletter; there are even blueprints of each of the Confederation fighters (unfortunately, with the digital versions nowadays you don’t get the original, physical copies, but you can always view the PDFs)! You get a lot of the background story but only if you choose to look for it; games nowadays would do well to emulate Wing Commander’s example.

Gameplay (4/5)
Wing Commander is a space combat sim where you get to pilot a variety of space fighters ranging from weak but nimble light fighters, to sluggish but powerful heavy fighters. Missions are usually patrol, escort or attack missions; sometimes a mixture of all of them. Between missions, you’re able to chat to some of your crewmates and also practise your skills in the simulator.

One aspect of Wing Commander which I love is the fact that the performance of the aforementioned missions impacts the Vega Sector campaign: succeed in your objectives and the the Terran Confederation push the Kilrathi out of the Vega Sector; fail and the TCS Tiger’s Claw ends up retreating back to Earth. Not many games allow you to have varying levels of success in your missions which Wing Commander does quite well. By doing so, it forces the player to ponder over some tough dilemmas: “Will my wingman survive this engagement? Should I send him back to base so he can live to fight another day or do I keep him along in case I really need the backup?” “Should I engage this patrol to increase my kill count or should I not risk it and just afterburner past them so I can save my missiles for the primary objective?” These are the sort of questions you’ll be asking yourself as you play the missions.

Wingmen also have different personalities – some are gung-ho and aggressive and will rarely listen to your orders while others are quite happy to leave you to your own devices when ordered to go home. Along with the background material in the manual, and the talks with your wingmen in the bar, this further adds to the illusion that they’re real human beings and you will start feeling personally responsible for their welfare. The only annoying aspect about your wingmen is that sometimes they can accidentally kill you, but then again I suppose friendly fire is possible in war…

Sound (2/5)
Well what can I say, this is a 20 year old game, and the sound effects are pretty basic. Also you may occasionally experience sound looping issues while running the game through DOSBOX.

Music (4/5)
Most of the game music sound like MIDI files but George “Fatman” Sanger did a really good job with the soundtrack nonetheless. Most of the music can be described as epic space opera/military sci-fi music which suits the game perfectly. One neat feature in the game is that the music even changes while flying your mission. For example, flying back to base after a successful mission will play a triumphant version of the main theme, whereas returning after a failed mission will play a version of the same theme in a minor key.

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics are obviously dated by today’s standards but they were revolutionary for the time. While most of the ships are represented by blocky bitmaps, Origin must be given credit for the amount of detail they’ve taken in drawing the cockpits and animating your ship being damaged. I’m also a big fan of the cutscenes as it makes the game seem more like an interactive movie – in a good way.

Replay (4/5)
Wing Commander has good replay value, even better than some games released today. The non-linear campaign means you will watch different cutscenes depending on your mission performance, not to mention losing wingmen (and sometimes having them) can alter the difficulty. You also can receive different medals depending on your combat performance (an early form of Steam/Xbox Achievements perhaps?).

Polish (4/5)
The game is pretty well polished – one great aspect about these old games is that (1) you had small development teams and (2) the Internet wasn’t as prevalent as it is nowadays. I believe this means developers in the old days had to spend more time on QA as you couldn’t just patch the game ad nauseam post-release. The smaller teams also meant reduced complexity and less crossed wires.

The only thing that did annoy me was you could sometimes accidentally issue incorrect commands to wingmen. The commands available to you change depending on what situation you’re in – so once your wingmen fly into range of enemies, new commands pop up. The commands are issued using the number keys and sometimes a different command gets substituted for the number you want to press – which can be annoying if you inadvertently tell a wingman to return to base…

Score - 8/10

While the audio and graphics are rather dated, Wing Commander is still one of the most immersive space sims I’ve ever played – and it’s over 20 years old!

If you want to get the game, you can get it off Good Old Games, DRM free.

If you like this game, you might like...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Choicest VGM - VGM #44 - Ultima 6 - Introduction

The next track is a short one and is actually the second part of the introduction, just before the actual game starts. It involves you escaping your gargoyle captors with the help of some old friends (namely Iolo, Dupre and Shamino)!

Many thanks to Tom's Ultima MT-32 MP3 Collection where you're able to download high-quality Roland MT-32 versions of the original themes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Choicest VGM - VGM #43 - Ultima 6 - Character Creation

One of my favourite aspects of some RPGs like Ultima 6 (and indeed Morrowind) is the ability for a class to be picked for you based on your answers to certain ethical dilemmas. This added an extra degree of role-playing by attempting to match a class that suited the way you tackled conflict best.

This piece of music was played while you were answering these ethical dilemmas in Ultima 6 which would ultimately dictate what character attributes you had.

Many thanks to Tom's Ultima MT-32 MP3 Collection where you're able to download high-quality Roland MT-32 versions of the original themes.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Syndicate Refused Classification in Australia

Some more old news (as in last month) but it appears that Syndicate has been refused classification by the OFLC... which really 5ux0|25. I was looking forward to the reboot of a classic Bullfrog series, even if it was taking the dreaded FPS route. The sooner Australia's censorship laws are revised, the better I say.

Oh well, on the bright side it's one less game I need to purchase and review !

Official X-COM strategy game in development

Apparently this is pretty old news, so sorry for the delays, but it's important news nonetheless:

An official X-COM strategy game is in the works!

And no, I'm not talking about the one 2K Games are making that happens to be a FPS, but they're actually returning to the roots of the series by making it a tactical strategy game. Best of all, Firaxis will be developing this new X-COM which is called X-COM: Enemy Unknown (no UFO in the title this time around).

For those of you who are old enough, you may remember that Sid Meier and his team used to work at a publisher/development house known as Microprose. It's no coincidence that they've taken an interest in the X-COM franchise since Microprose was responsible for publishing the original series back in the mid 90s!

I'm telling you now that this is shooting up my list of most anticipated games. Apparently it's slated for a Q3 2012 release.

Choicest VGM - VGM #42 - Ultima 6 - Rule Britannia

On to the next Ultima 6 which will not only be recognisable in the gaming world as it is an actual piece of music - a patriotic British song known as Rule Britannia - I mean what else was Lord British going to have for his theme song? :)

Many thanks to Tom's Ultima MT-32 MP3 Collection where you're able to download high-quality Roland MT-32 versions of the original themes.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Skyrim Soundtrack has arrived!

Oh I forgot to mention that my Skyrim Soundtrack arrived a few days ago. At first I was disappointed since I couldn't find any trace of Jeremy Soule's signature (since you were meant to receive a hand-autographed copy of the soundtrack if you ordered before a certain date) - however, closer inspection revealed a gold squiggle which I previously thought was just artwork. Must be JS's signature!

Anyway there's a lot of music here (4 CDs worth) and from what I've heard of so far, it's what you'd expect from Jeremy Soule - epic fantasy music at its best. I'll make sure to give a proper review once I get around to it :).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Real Deckard Cain

Would you believe me if I told you there was a real Deckard Cain living amongst us? Apparently the name Deckard Cain which most associate with the town elder in the classic Blizzard RPG, Diablo, is in fact the name of a teenager; his full name is Deckard Cain Elder. His name was submitted as part of a contest to name one of the characters in Diablo and obviously he won.

Thanks to Kurt for giving me the heads up on this one.

Oh and no I'm not dead, but I *have* just got back from holiday... and have a heap of games to finish with very little time to finish them :(. I need another holiday just to play the games I got. Worst of all, one of them is a Bethesda Softworks RPG and you know how long THEY take to finish...