Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Choicest VGM - VGM #69 - Quest for Glory 2 - Introduction and Opening Theme

To commemorate the success of the Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption Kickstarter project, I've decided that the next lot of Choicest VGMs should be from the Quest for Glory series, specifically Quest for Glory 2. So here we have the music that plays as the Hero of Spielburg rides on a magic carpet to the desert city of Shapeir, with his friends Abdulla Doo, Shameen and Shema.

Random bit of trivia - there's actually a cameo appearance of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation in the intro. You can actually hear it going to warp at 2:41. Ah the good ol' days when Star Trek was on TV...

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Diablo III Review

Plot (4/5)
Diablo III is once again set in the dark fantasy world of Sanctuary, a world where demons and angels fight each other for supremacy, with the hapless mortals of the world being caught in between. Twenty years after the events of Diablo II, Deckard Cain is still alive!

Sorry I found that to be the most shocking aspect of the plot. Okay let me start again...

Twenty years after the events of Diablo II, Deckard Cain, last of the Horadrim is in Tristram's old cathedral with his niece Leah (a new character to the series). While studying ancient tomes (as he normally does), Cain discovers that a great evil will beset the world of Sanctuary (again). Unfortunately for Cain, a giant meteorite crashes into the cathedral taking him down into the abyss below. Leah manages to escape and she returns to the town of New Tristram, which is built next to the ruins of the old town. Reminds me of this Monty Python sketch:

Anyway, the player character is a traveller from afar that follows the meteorite's trail to New Tristram where they meet up with Leah. The player agrees to aid Leah in finding Deckard Cain as he is the most knowledgeable person in Sanctuary – at least when it comes to prophecies of doom!

The plot itself is rather so-so especially considering it's so similar to the previous games in some regards, however the world of Sanctuary is so rich with history and culture that I can't in my right mind reduce the score. Each character's story generally follows the same path – this is after all Diablo, a linear hack 'n' slash action RPG! However, just like in Diablo II, there are subtle differences. It's not only the cutscenes that have subtle differences but also how you talk with NPCs. On occasion, NPCs reveal different facts about the world depending on which character class is asking the questions. For example, playing as the monk and talking to a Chinese-like fellow called "Covetous Shen" reveals that in his homeland they too practice polytheism and he tells it using a humourous anecdote. It's not much but it helps immerse you in the world and get a feel of the NPC personalities.

Gameplay (3/5)
Just like previous Blizzard games, they usually follow the mantra "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". 90% of the gameplay in Diablo III is going to be very familiar for Diablo veterans. Basic attacks are done by clicking with the left mouse while you can assign special skills to the right mouse button. Now you can also assign some special skills to the number keys giving you a greater variety of skills at your disposal. As you level up you can either unlock more skills or improvements to existing skills. For example you may choose to self-heal when you perform an attack or knock the enemy back – this allows your character to specialise. So far, so good.

One aspect that has changed is that you can't just quaff a million health potions as you used to in previous games. Health regenerates every so often as you kill enemies but now potions have a cooldown period which means you're quite vulnerable for those few seconds especially if you're up against hard-to-kill enemies that don't drop much health. Personally, I'm not such a big fan of this system since it usually means you have to surrender some choices with your character build in ensuring they can regenerate health in these situations. i.e. it's more difficult to make a truly offensive build that can survive.

There are multiple difficulty levels in Diablo III, just like previous games. However, once you've finished the first difficulty level (Normal) for those who don't care about loot there's not much incentive to play it on a higher difficulty setting. Even for those wanting loot it's frustrating since drops of good gear is really low. The cynic in me says it's because they want the newly added auction house to be used, meaning you'd need to spend real money in order to acquire good gear. Which is lame.

Sound (5/5)
There are some slip-ups in pronunciation but generally high quality voice actors have been recruited for this game, including the voice-actor-that-has-been-in-almost-everything, Jennifer Hale as Leah; Steve Blum as Zoltun Kulle (another voice-actor that-has-been-in-almost-everything); Claudia Black (known for her role in Stargate SG-1) as Cydaea (one of the bosses); James Hong (known for his role in Big Trouble in Little China) as Covetous Shen; and Michael Gough reprising his role as Deckard Cain.

Blizzard decided to re-use many of the old sound effects from the original Diablo games, which is a nice touch (e.g. the sound effect played when loot drops). They also continued to include hotkey taunts/voices for your character via the numpad (and there are different ones for each class/sex combo :)).

Music (5/5)
Music is of a high quality and appropriate to the genre. Sure Matt Uelman (the composer for the first two Diablos) isn't aboard and the soundtrack won't be your favourite track in the CD player (or iPod playlist) but just like in Starcraft 2, Blizzard didn't hold back when creating this soundtrack. A live orchestra is employed to give an almost Wagnerian feel to the music instead of the typical creepy guitar music we're used to hearing from the previous games.

Graphics (4/5)
Blizzard has once again decided to adopt an isometric viewpoint for Diablo III except a 3D engine is now employed. Animations, just like in Diablo II, are a highlight although there are occasional framerate drops on even modest systems and the character models tend to have a low polygon count (although you never look at them close-up unless on the character selection screen anyway).

Replay (2/5)
The Normal difficulty campaign (if you're not rushing) will take you about 20 hours to complete. Once you've completed it the first time, there's basically two ways to replay Diablo III: either playing the game again with a different class or playing again on a higher difficulty. The former is actually more appealing to me as at the very least you can experience some (subtle) differences in the storyline as you're playing with a different character and slightly different conversations take place with NPCs. The latter option requires you playing the whole game again with poor quality equipment and much harder enemies. Sure, for those who like the challenge and the ability to boast, it's great – until you discover how much time is required to "farm" for good enough gear. Unless you use the Auction House of course...

Anyway, I haven't replayed Diablo III since the few weeks shortly after it was released. The only incentive I now have of playing is if a friend wants to go through the campaign again – and that's about it.

Polish (4/5)
Besides network teething problems when the game was originally released, the game is actually fairly polished. However, this is to be expected considering the formula hasn't really changed much, all Blizzard have done is refined it. However, I have started to receive several annoying emails in the past few months to do with apparent security issues.

Even though I haven't really played Diablo in the past few months, I've been accused by Battle.Net several times of spamming and my account is continuously suspended as a result. Sometimes I'm threatened that my account will be deleted if the spamming continues. While the chances of someone having taken over my account is possible it's very unlikely. Even after changing my password each time (with passwords identified as "strong" by Battle.Net) the emails continue – which is pretty annoying. While it's good that Battle.Net is taking security seriously they don't give much avenue for the player to prevent the flood of annoying emails (besides closing your Battle.Net account for good I suspect). It also leads me to believe that Battle.Net may be identifying a lot of false positives since sometimes accounts are suspended simply for "suspicious behaviour" without really mentioning what specifically prompted the suspension in the first place. Anyway I've changed e-mail address so I'll see if that works.

Score – 7/10

It's really hard to fault Diablo III as 90% of the game has stayed true to the exact same formula used in Diablo and Diablo II. While playing the game through the first time was a blast it remains to be seen if the game will have the longevity that made its predecessors legendary.

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

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


Monday, November 19, 2012

NBA 2K13 Review by Choona

The wait is finally over... originally the PC version (digitally distributed) of the next instalment in the NBA 2K franchise was delayed by two weeks, but this was extended out to 4 weeks after the release of the XBOX 360 and PlayStation3 versions.

There seemed to be a disconnect between the developer, publisher and parts of their target clientele. The console community seemed not only receptive, but enthusiastically embraced the latest addition to the basketball simulation genre. However, the extended delay in releasing the game, without any official comments, had left a bitter taste in the mouths of some PC gamers. Unfortunately, it had allowed much speculation in regards to the motives of 2K Sports for future releases on the PC platform, but for now let's enjoy what we've got.

Sound (4/5)

The auditory experience in NBA 2K13 is overall a reasonably well coordinated effort. With Jay-Z being the Executive Producer, the music selection was a nice selection from multiple music genres, from rap to rock.

The in-game environmental audio is an improvement over the previous instalments of the NBA 2K series. The sound of the ball bouncing off the rim, the grunt of players fighting for position to grab the rebound and the crescendo from a cheering crowd as your home team gains momentum, all adds a crucial element to the overall experience playing NBA 2K13.

The commentary team of Kevin Harlan and Steve Kerr make a colourful and fairly dynamic addition to the game. Examples of comments they make include the progress of the game, the last play, a player on court or even how the team was last season. Considering there can only be a number of recorded lines of commentary, it still feels natural enough.

Graphics (5/5)

Admittedly NBA 2K13 does not have Crysis-like graphics, but then it doesn't have to. The stadiums have an individual feel in regards to lighting and crowd mood, and the players actually look realistic enough if you're not staring at them close up. In fact, without paying full attention to the graphical quality, you would almost swear that you're watching a real NBA game on TV.

Gameplay (4/5)

It's a basketball game... what more do you want? Actually, it's more of a basketball simulation game. There is a vast difference with other basketball games out there, such as EA's NBA Live series or the NBA Jam series. NBA 2K13 continues the tradition of being more serious with the gameplay, where good defence makes a large difference whether your opponent sinks his basket, or even the correct screen at the right time will free your team mate up for an easy score; much like real life competitive basketball.

In fact NBA 2K13 has paid much attention not only the effects of the strategic game, but has tweaked and improved several aspects of the game over previous iterations of the series.

There is now a significant difference with speed, such as with a small guard versus a large forward. In previous versions, even a center could sprint down the court and catch a very quick point guard on a fast break, but no more. If you're playing as a big guy without ridiculous speed, then forget trying to out-sprint a point guard down the court.

Additional, it feels like the physics behind the game has been improved. In fact, a power forward setting a strong screen on an opponent point guard can knock him on his behind if you can catch him off guard. Unfortunately it has made it worse when you accidently bump your own team mate; it can almost knock you off course or even stop you in your tracks. This becomes especially silly when a big fellow like Dwight Howard clips Steve Blake and gets bumped backwards.

Overall (4/5)

NBA 2K13 continues the tradition of being an excellent basketball game, particularly if you enjoy the finer points of the strategic game, and overall has again made a slight improvement over its predecessor (NBA 2K12).

There are other modes, but I did not get to test them, hence they’re left out of this review. The Association makes a return for those who enjoy playing online.

My Career mode is now integrated with My Player mode (for stats), and it allows us NBA fans to live our fantasy of playing in the NBA.

There aren't many choices of games for basketball fans at the moment, with the cancellation of EA's releases, but NBA 2K13 is definitely well worth the money.

Currently is it available through Steam for $30 if you want a PC version. Unfortunately it appears that a hard copy version of the game is not sold through the stores in Australia.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hero-U's website receives a makeover

There's only a couple of days left but the Kickstarter project by Lori and Corey Cole (developers of the classic Sierra series, Quest for Glory) have updated their main website and I must say it's looking fantastic. Looks aren't everything though as it now has much more information about Hero-U and its team. There are now even some extra screenshots and some music that you can download. I've taken the liberty to post some of this music on YouTube as it's of a high standard - definitely not what you'd expect from an amateur game, which Hero-U isn't. Incidentally, Ryan Grogan, the composer is a fellow Aussie too! So you're creating jobs for Australians (or an Australian) if you support this game ;).

So I guess this post is really aimed at the those who didn't really know much about Quest for Glory or skeptics who thought the development team wasn't up to scratch. I'm hoping that visiting the website will change your mind.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

10 reasons you should fund the Hero-U Kickstarter

I've already gone through why I reckon Quest for Glory, developed by Lori and Corey Cole, is so amazing. However, that mainly dealt with the past, now I'm going to talk about the future. The future is the Kickstarter that has only 6 days left to raise $400,000. So far almost $250,000 has been raised but it would be awesome if the project could receive more backers. However, those who aren't already Quest for Glory fans may be a bit hesitant to contribute so here are my 10 reasons why you should.

1. You are a Sierra adventure game fan

Actually if you're a fan you've probably already supported the game already - however some might say well, I like game X but I don't like game Y - and if you feel strongly against supporting Hero-U that's up to you. However consider this: The more ex-Sierra game developers that can back into business the more publishers nowadays will sit up and notice. Adventure gaming will always have a market.

2. You hate linear games

Would you believe that the first Quest for Glory that came in 1989 accommodated for a branching storyline, multiple ways to solve puzzles (depending on your class) and the ability to import your save game into the next chapter in the series? It took me two decades to find a game that was a worthy successor to Quest for Glory and that would be the Mass Effect series which happens to also have all those attributes (except solving puzzles is actually rather easy in Mass Effect and often involves a nuke cannon). Hero-U will be as non-linear as they come. In this post, it's mentioned that

" two players are likely to see the exact same story..."

and that

"...the people who write walkthroughs for games are going to have a hard time with Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. The players on the other hand, may find themselves playing the game over and over, trying to see what changes when they take a different attitude."

3. You enjoy adventure/RPG hybrids

Hero-U promises to combine role-playing, puzzles, an immersive story and rich character interactions, just as they did in the Quest for Glory games. There will be two general paths you can take in the game in either becoming a rogue hero or a member of the Thieves Guild.

4. You like to take your time and plan your moves using tactical turn-based combat

Tired of the mind numbing button mashing of games like Diablo? Prefer games like X-COM: Enemy Unknown where you get time to think and plan your moves? Then Hero-U maybe just for you. Just like X-COM: Enemy Unknown and many other older RPGs and tactical strategy games, Hero-U will feature action points for its combat system and you'll have different types of attacks to choose from.

5. You like your characters to have unique personalities

Characters aren't just cardboard cut-outs dispensing drivel. Characters in Hero-U are promised to have their own agendas. In the words of the Coles:

"They aren’t there to serve you, only themselves."

Conversation promises to be an important part of the game as it seems to help in building relationships.

6. You enjoy puns

Most people wouldn't be brave enough to admit this but come on, some of you secretly take delight in puns. Yes they make you groan and /facepalm but puns are a sign of intellect - of your ability to play with the English language. The Coles are masters at puns and it's been a staple of the Quest for Glory series since the beginning. Apparently, Hero-U is going to be no different.

7. You like receiving free games for your support

I don't know how many Kickstarters do this but depending on how much you pledge you can receive free games! Here are the games that are available to you:

8. You want a new adventure/RPG made by veterans

Lori and Corey Cole are veterans at game development having developed the entire Quest for Glory series during the 80s and 90s and also other games such as the Castle of Dr. Brain. However, they've also teamed up with Andrew Goulding and the Brawsome team who were behind games such as MacGuffin's Curse and Jolly Rover. MacGuffin's Curse managed to get 8/10 in Australian PC magazine PC Powerplay and Jolly Rover holds a Metacritic rating of 71 along with an aggregate user rating of 8.1.

9. You want more awesome games on Mac and Linux

Hero-U's awesomeness won't be solely confined to the PC but the Coles plan to make versions for Macs and machines running Linux! So if you want to see classic adventure/RPG gaming on your platform, this is a good way to go!

10. You can get your very own toy meep!

What's a meep you ask? Well it's kind of hard to explain but here's a video of them:

Okay I'm not really interested in a meep but just putting it out there :).

I hope I've managed to encourage more people to back the project. Lori and Corey Cole are happy to answer any questions you have and so are the many Hero-U backers at the Kickstarter

Monday, November 12, 2012

Guild Wars 2 - The Sound of Music

I often watch the Malchor's Leap loading screen in Guild Wars 2 and wonder, what does this scene remind me of? The hilly countryside, a person with their arms outstretched as if they wanted to sing, and then it dawned on me.

Seems logical. What else could the warrior be doing? :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Quest for Glory, a GOGgame Story by Rambutaan

Good Old Games (GOG) is currently running a video competition where you have to create a video similar to the "Let's play" videos that have cropped up over Youtube in the past few years except it has to be a GOG game. So it's a bit of free advertising for them (well almost - they are going to give away a few of their games to the best ones but hey, it's not much in the grand scheme of things :)).

Anyway, normally I wouldn't participate in these due to the effort involved - plus I've never done a commentary or audio review of a game before. However, since Quest for Glory and its makers, Lori and Corey Cole probably deserve more press than they are receiving, I decided to create the video. Hope you enjoy it!

I've got the transcript which I more or less follow below:

Hi everyone. My name is Mark G aka Rambutaan from the GOG forums and here is my entry for the GOGgame story competition. The game I have chosen to talk about is Quest for Glory 1 or Hero’s Quest. This game is probably my favourite game of all time mainly because it was so groundbreaking for its time. The game was designed by Lori and Corey Cole and developed by Sierra On-Line in 1989. It was a latecomer to the "Quest" series games – as King's Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest and Leisure Suit Larry, had their first games released a few years before. Yes, technically Leisure Suit Larry isn't a "quest" game but it might as well be – I suppose Sex Quest would've been too controversial as a name... Anyway I've decided to give you my 5 reasons why I consider Quest for Glory 1 a classic, the reason it is such a crucial game in my gaming history. So let's start with Number 1.

Reason #1: Adventure/RPG hybrid
Quest for Glory 1 is probably the first game I've ever played that had RPG elements. Up until that point I was playing a lot of adventure games by Sierra and Lucasarts but all of them were traditional point 'n' click adventures. While on the surface Quest for Glory also looked like just another Sierra adventure game, deep-down there was actually RPG elements in there. You had three different character classes, the Warrior, Mage and Thief. You could assign points into different stats like Strength, Vitality, Agility, etc. All the typical hallmarks of an RPG game. However, to me QFG was always an adventure game first and an RPG second. This is what I believe is its strength because the focus is still more on the story but the RPG element allows for some subtle differences when you play the game with a particular character class which brings me to Reason #2.

Reason #2: Choices
Before I move on, some of you might be saying that Japanese RPGs like the Final Fantasy games are basically adventure/RPG hybrids – I mean they're basically adventure games with a bunch of stats right? So does that mean I love those sort of games too? The answer is "no" and the reason comes down to "choices". In a Japanese RPG you play the role of one character that you've had no hand in picking. You have no choice when it comes to appearance, what class they are or even the name of the character. While you couldn't choose the appearance in Quest for Glory 1 you could pick which class to play.

Typically in Japanese RPGs there’s only one way to approach the problem and one way that your character can fight. In Quest for Glory 1 picking a different class means you employ different methods when you fight, just like traditional D&D RPGs. If you're a mage you use magic spells, if you're a thief you can employ throwing daggers, if you’re a warrior, it's the sword and shield. Also there'd be multiple ways of approaching problems. For example, at one stage in Quest for Glory you have to recover a ring from a nest in a tree. If you're a thief, you might have a lot of points in climbing and agility, so climbing the tree and nimbly walking out on the branch to retrieve the nest would be your best bet. If you're a warrior with a lot of points in Throwing, you would just chuck a few rocks at the nest to bring it down. If you're a mage, you can use finesse and just cast a "Fetch" spell to fetch the nest.

Also being a certain character class actually gave you access to different areas in the game. If you were a thief you would be able to join the local Thieves Guild and you would also be able to rob houses. If you're a mage you'd be able to challenge the wizard Erasmus in a special mini-game.
I've come across very few games that have managed to emulate the branching storylines based on class/background, that made the story feel sufficiently different depending on the choices you made. The only ones that come to mind are some Bioware and Black Isle RPGs – but since they are RPGs many of them focused more on the RPG element rather than the branching storylines which was a bit of a turn-off for me at times.

Reason #3: Day/Night cycles
QFG was the first game I remember having day/night cycles. This really helped with immersing the player into the world and gave the impression that people were going about their business regardless of the player's actions. Shops would close for the night and the weapons master would train in the castle courtyard during the day. At night, the fairies would visit their ring of mushrooms and the ghosts would haunt the graveyard. It's by no means like the Elder Scrolls games but the game felt less linear and more open as a result. You were free to take your time and explore the Spielburg valley and complete tasks in any order you wanted. You could even earn some extra gold at the castle stables although it's probably not exactly work becoming of a hero!

Reason #4: Music
Music is generally used sparingly in this game but there are some memorable tunes. The Hero's fanfare that is played in this first game can be heard in some form or another in just about every game in the series. The most beautiful piece in this game though has to be Erana's Peace or the Magic Meadow. In the game, Erana's Peace is basically a sanctuary for the Hero, a place he can rest and not fear he'll be chomped on by a saurus in the middle of the night. The place is beautiful, peaceful and serene and so is the music. In fact, the track is so well loved that there have been remakes of the tune in recent years.

Reason #5: "Pick Nose"
Okay for those who haven’t played this game you may be thinking I've lost the plot. "pick nose?" How could that be possibly a reason to list a game as a classic? But let me explain. Anyone who has played a Sierra adventure game will remember that there was always a myriad of ways you could die and often it would result in a humorous dialogue about your death. So, see what happens if you type in "pick nose" as a thief...

[ Video has thief pick his nose with a lock pick and die ]

Get it? It's a pun! You actually ended up using your lock pick to pick your nose instead of... – okay I shouldn’t try explaining the joke – first sign a joke isn't funny right? But this is the kind of humour that has pervaded the series – it's all about puns – there was even a character called Punny Bones in Quest for Glory IV. So yeah, the game is full of Dad jokes and puns. As a result whenever I make jokes amongst my friends, they are equally cringe-worthy so I've actually got Lori and Corey to thank for my outdated sense of humour – thanks guys!

Well that's the end of my video. A couple of plugs before I go: If you're a fan of the Quest for Glory games, make sure to check out the Kickstarter Project Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Lori and Corey Cole need your financial support in developing a new game and I'm pretty excited about the prospect. Also if you're interested in purchasing the Quest for Glory series – check out Good Old Games. Cheap DRM-free classics, what more could you ask for? A slice of quiche?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Elite creator David Braben starts Kickstarter

Anybody remember this game?

Or the one that came before it? Elite? Well actually, I don't remember Elite, that was probably a bit before my time, but I do remember Frontier: Elite II. Yes it was buggy, but you know what was amazing? You could visit millions of star systems in it and the game fit on one floppy disk. You read right, one floppy disk. This just shows you the power of procedural generation. Also docking at space stations was awesome too since one of the few tunes in the game would play, which is of course the Blue Danube, a homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Okay so why was I asking if anyone has played Elite or Frontier: Elite II? Well if you were a fan of those games David Braben is asking for your help to fund a new Elite game! A Kickstarter project has been created titled Elite: Dangerous and so far they've managed to raise 348,000 pounds. I've made my contribution to the series since that will mean two space sims I can look forward to by legendary developers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Battlefield 1942 is now free!

Battlefield 1942 is now free!

Well kind of... there's a catch... there's always a catch - but it's not much of a catch if you've already got some recent EA games such as Battlefield 3 or Mass Effect 3 already. Basically you need to have EA's digital distribution system Origin installed and running. If you've already got Origin setup, all you need to do is to visit the Free Demos page and download it. Also if you read further it says that the free download expires 1 March 2013. So I'm not quite sure what happens after that date if you happen to buy a new computer. Does that mean you won't be able to re-download the game or if you've tied it to your account already, you're fine?

So why is EA giving away Battlefield 1942, the original Battlefield game that started it all? Well apparently the Battlefield series is now 10 years old (that's right, it's been THAT long since the original) and Battlefield Premium has surpassed 2 million members (I've yet to join the BF Premium wagon, but looks like they're doing just fine without me! Hmph! ;)).

While the very first Battlefield may not look too great and the controls might also seem a bit clunky, imagine what it was like when this game first came out. It was actually way ahead of its time.

Oh and what I find hilarious is that the game is a "hefty" 150MB in size - that's way smaller than a Battlefield PATCH nowadays...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Choicest VGM - VGM #68 - Jones in the Fast Lane - Oh what a weekend!

One of my favourite tracks from Jones in the Fast Lane and especially apt since it's Friday and the weekend is almost here!

Usually the music would accompany silly anecdotes of what you did on the weekend such as "You went to Las Vegas in a $20,000 car and came back in a $200,000 Greyhound bus!" Hey I had to get my Dad jokes from somewhere...

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