Saturday, March 31, 2012

Battlefield 3 - the RTS?

Yes that's Hell March you hear in the background and this is a great tribute to C&C: Red Alert, except using video from BF3 to mimic the classic RTS :P.

Choicest VGM - VGM #58 - King's Quest V - Battle with Mordack

This music plays when you finally battle the evil wizard Mordack. The track starts playing when Mordack teleports into his lab where he says the memorable line "What's going on here?! I'll take care of you, you swine!" (well at least I remember it to this day, for some reason). It is preceded by some awesome organ playing.

Thanks to Sierra On-Line and Quest Studios for providing these memorable tracks.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Top 10 Game Publishers of All Time - #3 Lucasarts

Coming in at #3 for top publisher is Lucasarts.

Lucasarts started off as Lucasfilm Games back in 1982 and it’s no surprise that it was founded by George Lucas of Star Wars fame. It wasn’t until 1990 that the name of the company was changed officially to Lucasarts. The earliest game by Lucasfilm/Lucasarts that I played would have to be Maniac Mansion (1987) although that’s actually cheating as I actually played Maniac Mansion whilst playing its sequel, Day of the Tentacle (1993). If you used a Commodore 64 in Day of the Tentacle you were actually able to boot up the original game! So to be fair, my first actual Lucasarts game would have been Loom (1990), a brilliant, musical, fantasy adventure by Brian Moriarty.

Being owned by George Lucas, Lucasarts has obviously published every Star Wars game created after 1982 and there were many good ones over the years. The first Star Wars game I ever played would’ve been the 1993 space sim classic, Star Wars: X-Wing. Developed by Lawrence Holland, who developed the excellent flight sim Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, a couple of years earlier, X-Wing had you flying X-Wings, Y-Wings and A-Wings for the Rebel Alliance. The single-player campaign was quite immersive too as you were able to receive medals and ribbons depending on how well you performed during missions. One of the most memorable moments in the game for me was when I was the only survivor in an escort mission because most of my squad was crazy enough to take on an enemy frigate. Somehow, I was awarded a medal for my bravery after the mission. I had a bit of a laugh about that as you could imagine! The same year, Lucasarts published its first CD-ROM game, the rail-shooter Star Wars: Rebel Assault. While there wasn’t too much freedom gameplay-wise, the video and audio in the game were amazing for the time.

In 1995, Lucasarts released the Doom-clone, Star Wars: Dark Forces. While Doom-clones were starting to become a bit dated, Dark Forces still turned out to be a fun game to play, mainly thanks to its choice protagonist, Kyle Katarn and a great story set in an already well-developed universe (i.e. Star Wars). In 1997, another Star Wars space sim was released known as X-Wing vs TIE Fighter which allowed you to fight as both the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, however it just didn’t have the character of the Star Wars space sims before it.

It wasn’t until 2003 that we finally saw another astounding Star Wars game thanks to critically-acclaimed RPG developer, Bioware. Knights of the Old Republic (2003) is an RPG set thousands of years before the time period in the Star Wars movies. You play the role of a Jedi knight in the game and depending on your actions you can either become a Light or Dark Jedi. The game gave a lot of insight into being a Jedi and offered you many ethical dilemmas to work your way through. Obsidian Entertainment (OE) further blurred the lines between good and evil in the 2004 sequel, Knights of the Old Republic 2. Unfortunately the ending was rather poor thanks to Lucasarts rushing OE to finish the game in less than a year which is a ridiculously short development cycle for a big budget RPG.

The most recent Star Wars game I’ve played was actually released 5-6 years ago and the only reason I really played it was that I was a big fan of Westwood Studios (famous for the Command & Conquer series). Petroglyph, a company formed by many ex-Westwood Studios employees, developed a Star Wars RTS that was released in 2006 known as Star Wars: Empire at War. While the ground combat sequences were so-so, there’s no better game to play if you want to fight epic space battles with ships from the Star Wars universe.

Besides Star Wars, I’ll always remember Lucasarts as the company that released awesome point ‘n’ click adventure games, along with its competitor, Sierra On-Line. Since this article is already becoming too long, I’ll just summarise the memorable Lucasarts adventure games I played:

  • The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) – classic comedy adventure where you play Guybrush Threepwood, wannabe pirate
  • Monkey Island 2 (1991) – Sequel to Monkey Island with a cliffhanger ending
  • Day of the Tentacle (1993) – Sequel to the wacky Maniac Mansion and one of my favourite games of all time
  • Full Throttle (1995) – A bikie gang adventure game set in the near-future
  • Monkey Island 3 (1997) – Probably the best animated Monkey Island game
  • Grim Fandango (1998) – An adventure game where you get to play a grim reaper
  • Monkey Island 4 (2000) – The first Monkey Island game in 3D
  • Tales of Monkey Island (2009) – After a long hiatus, Telltale Games developed 5 episodes of what is basically Monkey Island 5.

Other games that I’ve played which were published by Lucasarts include:

  • Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (1991) – awesome WWII flight sim that allowed you to fly several American and German planes, even the B-17 Flying Fortress!
  • Afterlife (1996) – A very interesting take on SimCity where you zone rewards or punishments for souls in the afterlife

Since Tales of Monkey Island ended with a cliffhanger, it would seem likely that a Monkey Island 6 will be released sometime in the future. Also, even though there are no more Star Wars films, the universe is a rich enough one to continue making games about so I’m not surprised if there will be more Star Wars games being released in the future. George Lucas has to make his money somehow, right?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mass Effect 3 - Endings

Well I've finally finished Mass Effect 3 and I can have an informed opinion on the game's ending (or at least the ending I got). For those who haven't started playing Mass Effect 3 yet a word of advice:

If you want to have the "best" ending in the game available, make sure you not only do all the side quests but that you also play Galaxy at War (the multiplayer component to ME3).

I was relieved at first when Bioware reassured fans that you could still get the perfect ending with single player, however I find this hard to believe and it's actually either impossible or very difficult to achieve with single player alone.

Be warned, the material below will contain spoilers!

Effective Military Strength

Okay, so for those of you who have actually finished the game, you'll realise that most endings results in Shepard's death - even the so-called better endings. Initially, I was okay with the idea that Shepard dies. You don't want a stupid Hollywood ending where against all odds, Shepard somehow survives. Hell, Shepard's cheated death so many times it's probably about time his luck ran out.

However, after some reading into the endings, it turns out that it actually is possible for Shepard to survive which is the perfect ending. Apparently you need have an Effective Military Strength (EMS) of 4,000 if you've maxed your paragon/renegade points or 5,000 if you haven't. I ended the game with around 3,300 EMS and this is after doing 95% of the side quests - I think I missed a couple somehow but I did just about every side quest I could. Consequently, it seems quite unlikely that anyone could get the requisite 4,000 points minimum in order to get an ideal ending. Maybe I didn't get enough support from the Salarians or maybe Renegades get a bonus from ME1 if they happened to save the Alliance fleet, although I thought it wouldn't have made much of a difference.

Different choices

As a consequence, I was quite disappointed with my ending, even though it was technically a win for organic life. Oh and that brings me to another point: the choices you get for an ending. If you manage to get onto the Citadel with a moderate EMS (which is what I had) you actually get three choices for an ending. They creepily draw parallels with the endings from the Deus Ex series. One is destroy all synthetics and the mass relays with them, kind of starting a new Dark Age like Tracer Tong wanted in the first Deus Ex. Another option is Shepard controlling the Reapers, maybe a bit like JC Denton merging himself with the Helios AI? Then there's one where you combine synthetics and organics together so they can all get along, similar to the advanced e-democracy ending of Invisible War perhaps where humans basically transcend.

It's an interesting mix - some of the endings are pre-determined by your actions in the ME3 and the previous games, but you also get a choice of ending. While choice is always good the endings are all a bit depressing (unless you have heaps of points as I've mentioned above). With movies, a depressing, surreal or ambiguous ending you can probably get away with. With games, it's a harder act to pull since a movie is only a 2-hour investment of your time - a game of Mass Effect 3 can take almost 50 hours. Imagine being told there's a 99% chance your character will die at the end of your 50 hour game. You'd feel a bit disappointed you wasted that much time. Yes, I know it was possible for Shepard to die in Mass Effect 2 as well but the chances of that happening were low - in ME3 it's the more likely outcome not the exception.

So how should it have been done?

Firstly, having the multiplayer determine the outcomes of the single player campaign was a mistake. There is no mention of playing the multiplayer during the single player campaign plus when you play it, it's awfully laggy for Australians. Also, what happens if you buy the game later and people stop playing multiplayer? You're pretty much destined never to have the best ending. Adding multiplayer is fine but they should've kept it as a separate module - maybe for grinding new weapons for their single player characters or additional epilogues to the single player campaign. They really should've allowed single player purists to have their way.

Secondly, I was actually fine with the endings where Shepard dies. They shouldn't have had an ending where Shepard survives (since it seems unlikely there'll be another game with Shepard as the protagonist anyway). They also should've spent more time showing how your party members, the people you care about, lead the rest of their lives or at least having them give tributes during a funeral scene.

Thirdly, the endgame was sloppily done which reminds me of another game that had a rushed ending thanks to publisher intervention: Knights of the Old Republic 2. This forum post suggests the endings were going to be a lot different and it takes into account the two squad members you bring along as well. In the current ending, your squad members miraculously disappear before you're teleported up to the Citadel, but then seem fine in the closing cinematics! Plot loopholes during the end of a game infuriate me and I never expected a company like Bioware to release such a poor epilogue. What happened to the awesome endings of Knights of the Old Republic or previous Mass Effects? What happened to the well documented epilogues of Jade Empire and Dragon Age? Bioware, you've done good endings before (or at least palatable ones) - I hope this isn't the start of a downward spiral!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Top 10 Game Publishers of All Time - #4 Valve

Coming in at #4 for top publisher is Valve.

Valve is probably the youngest out of the publishers listed here but they’ve definitely made a name for themselves in a short period of time. Valve was formed in 1996 by Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington, who were apparently both Microsoft employees. Valve released the critically acclaimed Half-Life in 1998 and continued to prosper by creating mods and expansions for Half-Life and by supporting the modding community (e.g. Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat). In 2002, the Steam digital distribution system was released. At first it was just a system for streaming patches however it soon was a platform for selling and distributing games via the Internet – and this I suspect is where Valve makes most of its money nowadays.

Valve hasn’t published that many games as in its early days it actually had its games published by Sierra. They also don’t have many franchises, regardless of whether you consider them a developer or a publisher, however the franchises they do have are popular ones. Valve’s most popular franchises would have to be Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead and Portal.

The Half-Life franchise started in 1998 although Valve wasn’t a true publisher yet. It wasn’t until 2004 when its sequel, Half-Life 2 was released, that Valve became a publisher in its own right through Steam. Just like the original, Half-Life 2 was an outstanding game. The combination of the Source Engine’s excellent graphics, awesome audio, well-designed levels and characters that you actually cared about, ensured its success. The game was followed by two expansions called “episodes”: Half-Life 2 Episode 1 (2006) and Half-Life 2 Episode 2 (2010). While controversial at the time, the episodic release model has become commonplace in the industry and is in fact the model Telltale Games uses to release all their games. Unfortunately, there has been no further news about another Half-Life 2 episode or even Half-Life 3.

The Counter-Strike franchise was the first example of Valve supporting the modding community and they did so by hiring the development team! The original Counter-Strike released in 1999, already had quite a following in its beta days but the game was primitive compared to the final product. I remember not being able to switch to a knife during the beta which meant when you ran out of ammo you were truly defenceless! Speaking of knives, Counter-Strike of course had that weird perk that whenever you switched from a heavy weapon to a lighter weapon or a knife, you actually ran faster. It’s not surprising you’d often see all of your teammates running with knives out at the beginning of a match! Counter-Strike: Source was released the same year as Half-Life 2 (2004) and was very similar to the original Counter-Strike except that it used the Source engine, which meant better graphics and ragdoll physics. While Valve purposefully limited the changes to appease the well established competitive player fanbase, there were still many that thought it was too different and they continue to play the original Counter-Strike to this day.

The release of WWII film, Saving Private Ryan in 1998 spawned a whole bunch of imitators for years afterwards. It also had an impact on the computer game industry with many new games being based on WWII. So it’s no surprise that in 2000, a WWII mod was developed for Half-Life called Day of Defeat (DoD). Unlike Counter-Strike, players spawned in waves of reinforcements instead of waiting for one team to win before proceeding to the next round. This was a big plus to me since it meant more gaming time! Also DoD had different classes and I’m a big sucker for class-based multiplayer FPSs. Finally, DoD was a bit more tactical and realistic compared to Counter-Strike as you had to capture control points or destroy weapons/structures in order to win the game. In fact, these could be seen as early forms of Battlefield’s Conquest and Rush modes. Like Counter-Strike, DoD also received the Source treatment in the form of Day of Defeat: Source in 2005. Unlike the Source version of Counter-Strike though, DoD: Source changed the gameplay quite a bit when compared to the original. Examples of changes included ironsights and a grenade launcher for the Rifleman class and the addition of a whole new Bazooka class.

While Valve was no way involved with the original Team Fortress, they were involved with what has come to be known as Team Fortress Classic which was released in 1999. The sequel to Team Fortress Classic, Team Fortress 2 (TF2), took a long time to be released and some suspected that like another game that was in development hell (Duke Nukem Forever), TF2 was vapourware. Come 2007 and TF2 finally became a reality. Thankfully TF2 retained the humourous nature of its predecessors and this was amplified with a 70s spy-flick atmosphere, and cartoon-style models and animations. The gameplay was also addictive as ever which helped to make this one of the best releases of 2007.

The Left 4 Dead franchise was one of the more recent Valve successes. The original game was released in 2008 and allows four players to play co-operatively, blasting zombies away as they make their way to safehouses. One of the choice features of the game was the Director AI which monitors the stress levels of players and spawns zombies near them if stress levels are low. This means everyone gets a chance to kill at least a few zombies and it makes the game more like a zombie flick, which the game obviously got its inspiration from. Shortly after Left 4 Dead, the sequel, Left 4 Dead 2 was released the next year. Left 4 Dead 2 had similar gameplay to the original except it introduced new characters, new weapons (especially melee weapons) and was set in America’s Deep South. It’s interesting to note that Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification in Australia due to its excessive violence so Valve had to create a new tamer version especially for Australia.

Bucking the trend of pure FPSs, Valve published Portal in 2007, a puzzle FPS game that started off as a Uni project. In Portal, players were given the opportunity to use gravity to their advantage through the clever use of portals. While the game was short, the puzzle gameplay and the game’s antagonist GLaDOS made it an instant hit. Portal 2, the sequel, was released in 2011 and it was bigger and better than the original. The game even introduced a 2 player co-op campaign so you could solve puzzles with your friends.

Other games that I’ve played which were published by Valve include:

  • Audiosurf (2008) – a fun indie game that allows you to surf your music
  • Alien Swarm (2010) – A Source remake of the classic UT2k4 mod
  • Worms Reloaded (2010) – Worms Armageddon for the PC
  • The Baconing (2011) – Third episode of Ron Gilbert’s Deathspank series

The outlook for Valve looks promising as a publisher, thanks to their Steam digital distribution platform which allows a lot more developers, especially indie developers, to sell their games directly to the public. With respect to their franchises, the next iteration of Counter-Strike, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is scheduled for release sometime this year. The other franchises are either dormant (Half-Life and Day of Defeat) or it’s unlikely a sequel will be made (e.g. Left 4 Dead, Portal and Team Fortress)

Battlefield 3 NES Edition

Someone has replaced Battlefield 3 sound effects with sound effects from the 8-bit era, apparently from NES games! Check it out on Youtube for those who want to have a nostalgia trip!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

First Impressions - Mass Effect 3

So how is it so far?

Well, I’ve played ME3 for around 20 hours now and if Hackett’s message is anything to go by (i.e. “the Crucible is at 50% completion”) that means I’m about half-way through the game. This already tells me the first thing about ME3 in that it so far appears to be longer than the previous games and they’ve done so by not having any annoying mini-games whatsoever. So that’s at least something, because if you’ve been following ME3’s release there were apparently a lot of displeased ME3 players to the point that just after release it was receiving a score of 2/10 on Metacritic (link). The number of 0 reviews didn’t seem to end! This has since been rectified as Metacritic has removed several of these user reviews claiming many could not be included due to the reviews being posted before the game’s official release date.

So far, the game’s been pretty good if you ask me. Graphics, audio and gameplay are generally similar to ME2 with a couple of neat compromises like the ability to modify your weapons again with mods (so it’s not as involved as ME1 but not as simple as ME2), and the scanning of assets, credits and quest items by evading Reapers (so not as basic as ME1 but not as laborious as ME2’s planet scanning for minerals). There are a couple of concerns I have or points that puzzle me.

Lack of ME2 Party Members

Characters from ME2 seem to take a backseat in this game – this is really a reunion of the ME1 characters. So far, none of the ME2 characters have returned as party members (unless you count Garrus as an ME2 character, but he was in ME1 too). I’ve had contact with most of them so far and their involvement ranges from a couple of lines of dialogue to being integral parts of the storyline – which brings me to another question. If you don’t have certain party members by the end of ME2 how do these missions play out without the ME2 character? Unfortunately, I’ll have to play another playthrough to find the answer to that question. It might explain why they excluded ME2 characters as party members though since depending on your ending for ME2, you may not have many party members to pick from.

Galactic Readiness and the Ending

There’s been a lot of debate online about this and with good reason. Many have complained that you cannot get a perfect ending in the game if you don’t at least play some multiplayer in order to increase your Galactic Readiness. Basically, the game is about preparing for the final confrontation by collecting War Assets in the single player game (war assets being things like armies, ships, etc.). These War Assets count towards your military strength. However, at the beginning of the game you receive a 50% penalty to this figure due to Galactic Readiness being at 50%. The only way to increase Galactic Readiness is by playing multiplayer. Some cynics reckon that the multiplayer is actually a form of anti-piracy measure, by only allowing those who play multiplayer to get a perfect ending. In response, Bioware has insisted that fans can still get a perfect ending if they just play single player, although it would mean more hunting of War Assets whereas playing multiplayer is potentially an easier way of doing it, if you’re not into spending hours hunting for items. Provided Bioware is telling the truth, I don’t really mind what they have done but it still remains to be seen if Galactic Readiness actually makes a difference or not.

While on the topic of the game’s ending, I’ve also seen a lot of players complaining that decisions you made in the PREVIOUS Mass Effect games have a big impact on how the ending pans out, suggesting that what you do in ME3 has absolutely no impact. This is also something I’ll have to experience for myself. While I find it hard to believe what you do in ME3 has absolutely no impact, it would be disappointing if it turns out true.

Friday, March 9, 2012

How to import your Mass Effect 2 save games to Mass Effect 3

Can't figure out how to import your Mass Effect 2 (ME2) savegame into Mass Effect 3 (ME3)? Well don't worry, EA actually has an article on how to do it - it would've been nice if they just told us in the manual somewhere but unfortunately they don't which meant I spent a bit of time figuring out how to do it (Note: Copying the ME2 saves to the ME3 saves folder doesn't work).

Anyway, the way to do it is so:

1. If you already have ME2 installed, you don't need to do anything, it looks for the games automatically in your ME2 save directory.

2. If you don't already have ME2 installed (like me), you need to create a folder at this location:

Documents > BioWare > Mass Effect 2 > Save > [save files]

with your saves. Then you're all set :).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Top 10 Game Publishers of All Time - #5 Activision

Coming in at #5 for top publisher is Activision.

Activision was first founded in 1979 as apparently the first third-party publisher for video game consoles. Before that, games were published by the manufacturers of the consoles themselves (e.g. Atari). In 1982, Activision released one of the classics for the Atari 2600, “Pitfall!” In the 1990s, Activision made millions from the Mechwarrior franchise although FASA, owners of the IP, decided against renewing their licensing deal after Mechwarrior 2. Activision eventually merged with Blizzard in 2007 to form Activision Blizzard. The first Activision game I played was Alter Ego which was originally released in 1986 (although I obviously played it much later). Alter Ego was one of the earliest life simulation games on PC that takes you from birth to the grave. It was apparently developed by a psychologist too.

Activision seems to be big on FPSs as two of the biggest FPS franchises, namely Quake and Call of Duty, were published by them. My first experience with Quake was the original game back in 1996. As with previous id FPSs, the engine and graphics were ahead of anything else at the time. Quake, and especially its excellent mod, Team Fortress, was the first time I did a lot of things in gaming:

  • Quake was the first game I started to use the keyboard *and* mouse to play instead of just the keyboard
  • Quake was the first game I bought a 3D graphics accelerator card for
  • Quake was the first game I created a clan for (with the very original name of “Another Quake Clan”)
  • Quake was probably the first game I circumvented the single player just to get involved with the multiplayer component.

While the first Quake wasn’t technically published by Activision (it was in fact published by GT Interactive), the rest of the series was. Quake was followed only a year later by a sci-fi take on the series, Quake II (1997). Unlike the original, this game had a more coherent plot involving humans fighting the alien Strogg. The next iteration however, Quake III: Arena veered away from providing a proper single-player campaign at all and just focused purely on multiplayer. Sure you could play with bots but it was obvious this game was meant for multiplayer and is still one of the best deathmatch games out there. It took six years before the next Quake was released and id decided to return to the sci-fi story of Quake II. Quake IV (2005) is set straight after Quake II and implemented the Doom 3 engine. Sadly the single-player campaign wasn’t as good as some of its contemporaries, and the multiplayer, while similar to Quake III, wasn’t as good.

Another big FPS franchise is, of course, the Call of Duty franchise which is most likely Activision’s biggest cash cow in recent times. I’ve only played three of the Call of Duty games but I can remember that the first one released in 2003, blew me away (no pun intended). Quality audio, graphics and gameplay was bundled with intense missions ripped straight from epic World War II shows such as Band of Brothers and Enemy at the Gates. One of the most memorable moments in the game is storming Stalingrad with nothing more than an ammunition case. Also running back at any stage would result in you being mowed down by Soviet machine guns. Like more recent Call of Duty games I’ve played, Call of Duty: World at War (2008) and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009), the single player campaigns tend to be really short, amounting to no more than 3-4 hours of gameplay which makes it hard to justify the $100 price tag. Fortunately the games come with pretty decent multiplayer, World at War especially as it has 4-player co-op and some zombie survival maps to boot!

Other games that I’ve played which were published by Activision include:

  • Mechwarrior 2 (1995) – my first foray into the world of Mechwarrior
  • Spycraft (1996) – A heavily FMV-driven game but there were a lot of fun puzzles
  • Call to Power 2 (2000) – A fun spin-off of the Civilization series
  • Doom 3 (2004) – Doom for the 21st century
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (2004) – a really immersive vampire RPG
  • The Movies (2005) – a movie studio simulation and actual movie making software bundled into one game.

Activision will undoubtedly want more Call of Duty titles, although I’m not terribly interested unless they take a brave new direction with the franchise. Id Software was acquired by Zenimax Media (i.e. Bethesda Softworks) in 2009 so it’s unlikely that Activision will publish any future Quake games. Consequently, there’s not really much I’m looking forward to from Activision.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New SimCity trailer

Looks like a new SimCity trailer was released at GDC (Game Developers Conference) and even though it's a teaser trailer, believe me, it's welcome news for SimCity fans like me who've been painfully waiting for a true successor to the 2003 SimCity 4. SimCity Societies was really just SimCity Lite and targeted at casual gamers - not that it was a bad game, but just that it wasn't really SimCity.

However, I think Maxis need to be careful in not making the game ridiculously complex with heaps of micromanagement like Cities XL and of course not so basic or casual like the original SimCity or SimCity Societies. In particular, the part where they mention your city will look and feel different depending on which industry you specialise reeks of SimCity Societies. I think a good compromise would be gameplay similar to SimCity 2000 or 3000 where there's just enough options to keep a player busy without going overboard in the complexity department.

Oh, also note that the game isn't actually called SimCity 5 as many news agencies have decided to call it. This leads me to believe this is in fact a reboot of the series (seems like the 2010s is the decade of reboots!).

Peter Molyneux leaves Lionhead Studios

Peter Molyneux has apparently left Lionhead and is now starting up a new company called 22 Cans. Peter Molyneux is best known for being a co-founder of the British development studios, Bullfrog and Lionhead Studios. Bullfrog developed classic games such as Syndicate, Theme Park and Theme Hospital. Lionhead Studios produced games such as Black and White, The Movies and Fable. Hopefully this new company will give Peter the freedom to try out new ideas as his games have always been different to say the least - and that's exactly what the game industry needs more of - innovation.

Battlefield 3 expansion to be released in June

Looks like there will be a new BF3 expansion coming out soon - which is just as well since it'll probably rejuvenate some interest into the game (most players have probably unlocked everything they can already).

The Close Quarters expansion pack is about... well... close quarters combat. A lot of indoor environments to fight in which reminds me of Operation Metro. Those of you who play BF3 will either love or hate this news since Operation Metro can quickly degrade itself into a spamfest, or a claymorefest or an RPGfest. You get the picture. It's great if you're the one staying out of the way and dropping ammo boxes or medpacks though...

One thing that will almost be universally welcome though is the return to fully destructible environments or at least more destructible environments like BFBC2. Apparently, you can "reduce entire locales to ruin". EA says more info will be released on March 13th.

There's also apparently another two expansion packs called Armored Kill and End Game, but at the time of this post I was unable to access the Battlefield Blog to check - maybe it's being innundated by BF3 fans!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Choicest VGM - VGM #57 - King's Quest V - Cassima

Cassima is the name of the servant girl you meet in the kitchen of Mordack's Castle. She's not just any ordinary servant girl though, as she's actually the princess of a kingdom known as the Green Isles. Cassima aids King Graham to escape a prison in Mordack's castle, after Graham gains her trust by returning her lost locket.

The theme is one of the best themes in Sierra adventure game history as it actually goes on to form the basis of the next game's soundtrack including the theme song, Girl in the Tower.

Thanks to Sierra On-Line and Quest Studios for providing these memorable tracks.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Choicest VGM - VGM #56 - King's Quest V - Mordack's Castle

A very ominous and foreboding track which is appropriate as you reach the main antagonist's abode. Mordack is the name of the evil wizard that keeps King Graham's family captive where Mordack tries in vain to convince Prince Alexander to turn his brother back into human form (he was turned into a cat).

Thanks to Sierra On-Line and Quest Studios for providing these memorable tracks.

Mass Effect 3 Official Launch Trailer

Bioware has been spamming with us trailer after trailer leading up to Mass Effect 3's release but this has to be the best and most similar one to an action movie trailer, yet. Gathering allies to fight the Reaper threat is going to be awesome and will hearken back to the days of games like Star Control 2.

Best part = Garrus telling Shepard: "Go out there, and give them hell. You were born to do this."

Definitely getting me pumped up for its release here in Australia.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Battlefield 3 Review

I've played a lot of FPSs in my time and there's only truly a few where I've had memorable experiences, namely Quake (and its excellent mod Team Fortress), Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield 2. What was special about Battlefield 2 was that it not only allowed you to fly planes and drive vehicles like its predecessors, but that the game ran a bit like a Real-Time Strategy (RTS). You had a Commander Mode where you could direct your squad leaders what to do and in turn the squad leaders would relay the orders to their squad mates. Well, that's how it was meant to work - obviously playing on public servers meant this only happened maybe 5% of the time - however when a Commander, his/her squad leaders and the team as a whole worked as a cohesive unit, it was a true sight to behold. Being the Commander of a winning team and earning the respect of your peers was a rare experience unmatched by other FPSs, except maybe Natural Selection.

I continued to buy into the franchise, waiting patiently for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (BFBC2) to be released. Once the bugs were ironed out, BFBC2 was a good game, but it still didn't feel like the original Battlefield 2 - it felt a bit light. So now we have the official sequel to the Battlefield series, Battlefield 3. Jets are back, big maps are back, large server limits are back, but wait, whatever happened to Commander mode?

Plot (3/5)
I don't believe there's a plot for the multiplayer portion of Battlefield 3, but just like BFBC2, it involves Russians and Americans fighting each other again.

The single-player campaign is set in the near future, where it appears there's trouble a-brewin' in Iran. You play various roles throughout the game, the two main characters being a US marine and a Russian GRU agent. You also get to play minor roles as a tank operator and a Naval Flight Officer. As you play the game fighting around the world, you realise things aren't what they seem and that Iran isn't the real enemy but that there is in fact an evil terrorist at work that is fooling both the US and Iran to think he's working for them. It's all been done before and while there are some fun missions in the single player campaign, ultimately this is typical computer game fare - which is surprising considering Andy McNab, a military fiction author, helped in the game's development (although I'm unsure if he was involved with devising the plot).

Gameplay (4/5)
The single player component of Battlefield 3 is pretty much like many single-player FPS fare out there, so I won't go into too much detail. Of course, the campaign is linear and to break the monotony of ducking around corners and firing a variety of firearms, you get Quick Time Events occasionally popping up (there you go, I learned a new word today). Quick Time Events (or QTE) are basically when the player has to mash a combination of buttons quickly in order to get past certain segments in the game. While more prevalent on consoles, it seems that they're starting to permeate the PC world as well. There are pros and cons to the inclusion of these. As mentioned, it's meant to break the monotony of whatever genre you're playing with something totally different, however it is definitely a gimmick and doesn't really require any skill, just reflexes (the...the...the..the...the reflex).

But I digress - so your typical linear FPS campaign for single-player? Check. Oh, I almost forgot to mention but something that was slightly weird and kind of ruined the experience was the fact that once you moved up a certain distance, friendly soldiers behind you would basically die for no reason and discarded! Sloppy!

Multiplayer is where the Battlefield series truly shines though, and BF3 is no exception. The game is similar to the Battlefield games before it where you have two teams fighting each other with a variety of classes and vehicles on offer. Within each team are several four-man squads and you can be either a leader of one of these squads, which gives you the ability to issue orders, or a squad member. Just like BFBC2, helping out fellow squad members will give you more points when compared to helping out a member of your team, so it's worth joining one if not to at least have more spawn options. Again, like BFBC2 there are the four modes of Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, Rush and good ol' Conquest, and there are persistent stats which allows you to level your character and unlock more weapons.

Unlike BFBC2, jets are back in the game, maps are larger and server limits increased. One nice new feature is the ability to spawn directly into the vehicles as well. This solves the problem (somewhat) of teammates waiting around for vehicle spawns as they will already know if it's available or not by checking the spawn points menu. Choice!

Also, the classes have been shuffled a bit. The Assault Class now not only fires grenades but they also act as a medic (you can choose whether to equip a grenade launcher or a medkit). The Support class is back to supply ammunition but now gets the old Recon abilities or being able to plant and lay explosives. They're also able to fire a mortar. The Recon class now has Radio Beacons which act as an extra spawn point. They are also able to provide intelligence on troop movements, using the MAV and designate targets with the SOFLAM. The only class that hasn't changed dramatically is the Engineer, however you now have to choose between using anti-tank weapons or anti-air weapons when equipping your soldier... unless someone has setup the aforementioned SOFLAM...

So, it looks like there's not much to complain about when it comes to the multiplayer gameplay of BF3 right? Well I'm afraid I have to spit the dummy about the exclusion of Commander mode. Sure I know Commander mode could be abused but it really set BF2 apart from other games and it was a breath of fresh air to play the game from a tactical perspective instead of at an operational level. Listen DICE, EA or whoever, you really need to make the Battlefield series tactical again - you're missing out on a potential market here!

Sound (5/5)
As always, sound effects in the Battlefield series are pretty authentic and they just keep getting better and better. Soldiers curse at the top of their lungs when they need help or are under fire, klaxons go off when missiles are locked and you even notice the Doppler effect as jets swoop from overhead.

Music (5/5)
While I wasn't a big fan of the soundtrack by itself, the soundtrack integrates reasonably well with the game. I especially think incorporating music with the end of multiplayer games as a particularly choice touch! As the map ends, the infamous 6 starting notes of the Battlefield theme start to play culminating in either a victory theme or loss theme at the end of the match.

Graphics (4/5)
Graphics in BF3 are sensational. Not only does everything look pretty in screenshots but rest assured the animations are fantastic too. Soldiers no longer turn on the spot but their upper torso and head moves around first making the animations appear more realistic. Soldiers will also skid if suddenly stopping from a sprint and you're actually able to see your legs as you mount objects.

The attention to detail doesn't just apply to the soldier models either. For example, the more damaged your attack chopper becomes, the more warning lights start to flash up on your HUD. While on the topic of HUDs though, I did experience a very annoying HUD/menu disappearance glitch in the early days of the game which made it quite impossible to play (if there is no menu, how can you setup your soldier or even deploy on a spawn point?). Thankfully, I believe this glitch is gone (at least I hope so)!

Replay (4/5)
Thanks to the Battlelog, Battlefield 3 probably offers the most replay value yet out of all the Battlefield games. Battlelog is basically a website that acts as your server browser for BF3 but also as a BF3 social network. You can chat to friends, "like" (known as "Hooah!"s in BF3) their recent achievements and posts, compare stats and medals with friends, even check out the stats from the last game you played as each game played has its stats recorded on the Battlelog.

One of the best new features is the inclusion of platoons. Platoons act like groups or clans and it's quite easy to create one. You basically give yourself a name, create a logo with the tools provided and start inviting friends to join. Once you've got a few friends you can then start chatting on the wall or comparing who is the best at Assault Class in the platoon, or who is the best pilot. The platoon page has an area that lists which platoon members are best at particular classes, vehicles and aircraft.

The only thing I find annoying about BF3 is that it appears you can only have one soldier per account, which is a bit different to previous Battlefield games. Also, whatever name you sign-up with you're pretty much stuck with for the rest of your life (unless you're patient enough to raise a support call with EA).

Polish (3/5)
It wouldn't be a Battlefield game without a few bugs and there were definitely quite a few around release. I actually thought this release, however, went a bit more smoothly than the BFBC2 release although it was quite annoying at the start when you weren't able to display the ping of servers in the Server Browser. How were you meant to know which server was best for you then?

Also the single-player campaign itself was slightly unpolished. Sometimes the cutscenes in the game would repeat themselves or the character models would be loaded but were not in the correct pose (e.g. a soldier being plopped in the game looking like Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man).

Score - 9/10

While the single-player campaign isn't terribly original, and there are the usual bugs that plague a Battlefield release, Battlefield 3 is simply the best multiplayer FPS on the market.

If you want to get the game, you can get it off Origin.

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