Friday, May 30, 2008

Review: "Grand Theft Auto IV"

Wow, so many things to gripe about this game I don't even know where to start. Let me hit off by saying that I am not an avid GTAIV fanboy, I merely bought it because there seemed to be so much hype for this game, obviously from fanboys of the series. I have played past GTA games before but they haven't impressed me beyond the fact that it is a game with a theme that hasn't been done much before. Moreover, it has an open world, FPS content and...well tons of stuff. I wouldn't really be able to categorisize what genre the game is itself.

So GTAIV is just like the old GTAs: Find job, do job, get monies, repeat. There are many 'sidequests' to do at your own leisure like dating your girlfriend/boyfriend, run random side-errands GTA style, etc. I think I should start making sub headers for this so here goes:

#1: Too many gimmicks, aka too diversified, no focus.

As Gerald McReary would say "Too much fun, never any focus", I think GTAIV fits the description really well. There are a FUCkLOAD of gimmicks out there and none, imho, was brought out to an acceptable satisfying level. It all feels half-done except maybe the handphone.

1) The handphone is a pretty awesome feature. It comes with a camera, ringtone, phonebook and almost all the basic shit you can expect off a handphone. It's great because you won't get really bored wandering the streets. Plus, the handphone is the new way GTA allows you to restart a mission. "Opps, mission failed. Try again? Press Yes!" *beep* Feels like the matrix lol.

2) The internet feature is weak weak weak. It only means I have one more place to go (the internet cafe) to do jobs sent to me via email. Emailing is pretty pointless. Some missions let you do funky stuff like submitting your resume to get a job. Mostly, the internet is used to date other girls, which would lead to getting random bonuses if you date them to a higher level like 50% discount on clothes. Oh ya, you can download ringtones and themes for your handphones! Woo!

3) Police car computers. Steal a police car, search of criminals, kill them all. Full stop. Don't even get money i think.

4) "Shoot the door lock to force the door open". Nice. I don't see that more than twice though. Might as well ask me to kick open the door like Niko always does anyway in cutscenes.

5) They improved the hand to hand combat system. Press A to dodge and other buttons to counter! Golly! Sounds like...I dunno, Assassin's Creed! Cool! Wow, what's this? A gun! Hey it does the job faster...hmm...

6) AutoAim awesomeness. Tilt the R analog to switch between target. Switch, switch, switch, WTF WHY ISN'T IT TARGETING THE GUY 0.001CM IN FRONT OF ME?! *goes in and out of aim mode* Oh, you need to refresh the autoaim? You mean the autoaim target stacking isn't real time? Wait, it sometimes is. Arg I'm confused.

7) Press RB to hide behind corners. Gears of War style. Pretty cool, only that it isn't half as slick as GoW is. There's blind fire btw. And opponents blind firing = autoaim is useless. Auto aim is pretty good when you drive a car though, no wait you can't do that. Darn.

#2 The Cars

The chase camera for the cars is really irritating. It probably uses the same spring camera thing I tried to develop when I was still programming. There's a lot of things I thought I did wrong because of how crap I think it felt (like the camera goes lower when my target moves forward). After playing GTA4, I guess my camera isn't wrong in that aspect. Do you know how damn hard is it to aim a weapon while driving past all the traffic and the camera gradually going down. It was okay until I have to chase a rather fast car.

Oh note that if your car is, say a fast car like Turismo, if your car is moving at like 5km/h and hit into a bus that is turning at a 0.01km/h rate, your car would flanged at impossible distances and spin at uncontrollable rates. Lesson: Get a heavier car. They go with the flow of the traffic ya? You don't really want to move too fast in this game anyway. One thing I learnt about GTA driving is that the less mistakes you make, the easier the chase is. One fatal car accident = mission failed. By fatal I meant if you banged into another vehicle, if you spin 180 degrees thereabouts, you are screwed. Makes you wish you hit harder so that the car would face the right direction again. Alot of people complain about how goddamn unrealistic is the driving as far as suspension or light-weightedness of the cars go. It's all pretty true. Motorbikes are the fucking worst, unless you enjoy flying. Ya that shit is really fun :p

#3 Killing, car chases, and different variations of them

They could do alot more than just these you know. It is bad that I can categorize missions. You know, I don't even mind doing all those things, but the missions must feel somewhat different from each other. Giving different mundane reasons to do a car/bike chase is not really what players would enjoy. "Get him, he's trying to blackmail me!" or "Get him! He stole our diamonds!". C'mon Rockstar you can do better than that. I've seen what you can do to all the conversations and cutscenes that happen in the game. That is actually the best thing in the game btw. The only reason why I still play it.

EDIT: Okay perhaps I rant on too much about what I feel are the disadvantages to this game, so I'm going to say a few good things, most of which don't really matter to me but might matter alot to other people.

What GTAIV did pretty well, imo, was the overall environment. The sound, graphics, trashtalking on the streets, atmosphere blah blah...they were all quite excellent. And one gimmick I find really god is the GPRS system they added, which will show you landmarks as well as police search zone (searching for you of course) as well as marking out the fastest legal route to the destination. Also the best thing about this game are the characters. TBH, it's the only thing that keeps me playing. Jimmy, Little Jacob, BRUCIE, the whole McReary family, they were all interesting characters to talk to.

Story-wise, I wouldn't say GTA4 is boring. I mean, c'mon, it's the fucking mafia we are talking about. That genre alone makes everything interesting as it can be. Random trigger happy people, family issues, pawn-king relationship. Some of the missions gives you choices as to whether to kill person A or B, which makes you feel like some kind of shinigami or something. The conversations and cutscenes before a mission makes you go like "wow, this is so cool, I'm driving a truck of bombs", all heated up and stuff. But once you fail for dumb reasons, that feeling fades very very quickly.

Dumb reasons include:

- some car suddenly jerking in your way during a chase that you KNOW as a fact that is it NOT scripted since it happens only once out of like ten tries.

- Autoaim fails

- Police appears at the worst possible time during a mission. Mostly during some shootings and random hijacking. Yes police cars are NOT that common, and you never notice them. It's like you turn 360 and go 'hmm no police' and the moment you hijack, your GPRS kicks in and you start seeing the words "Lose your wanted level" at the bottom of the screen making you feel like turning off your console.

These are the most significant reasons why you might die. Maybe because I suck, but I doubt it. Then again, I don't play much GTA so *shrugs*.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

MDA's crap.

I haven't been really happy about the stuff going around with Age of Conan arriving in Singapore. I was planning to get it so that I will have something to do for the last 3 weeks before my NS. So it got delayed till 23rd due to shipping matters. I thought it was an SOP that games are to be shipped early so that shops can release them in time. Okay, that screw up, possible on EA's side, cost me 3 days. Okay cool.

Then on 23rd, it STILL hadn't arrived in shops. Why? Because MDA have to give a ESRB rating so it would possibly be out the next day. Okay, cool. It's just one more day, I can live with that. Saturday it STILL hadn't arrive? Wtf? Why, because MDA is sleeping I heard, phone calls can't get through. That means that it won't be out till Monday. Whoa it's past monday already, guess what? It's still isn't out. What the fuck is so damn hard about choosing a rating between M18 and BANNED. Is the Mass Effect incident going to happen again? Somehow GTA4 got away with their X'ed titties.

At least I got GTA4 now. Pretty nice game, but gameplay experience is pretty meh. A possible review coming up? :p

Monday, May 19, 2008

MMO design (part 1)

I've been thinking about MMO design in general, what games like WoW achieved and failed to achieve etc, why Vanguard has so much potential yet it was difficult to keep enough loyal fans and what I worry about Age of Conan. Sadly, I might not have the time to thoroughly explore Age of Conan.


In all MMOs, the best way to keep a crowd and have them entertain from level 1 to cap is the crowd themselves. Just making the world seem populated with PCs is enough to create a good online experience. You don't even need to have a designer to mash out 2 million unique quests to make grinding enjoyable. To me, WoW leveling experience is no different than EQ. Instead of you telling yourself what to grind, the NPC tells you what to grind and/or make you walk to weird parts of the world. Of course, this is with the exception of chain quests leading up to a big reward, like Epic Quests from EQ. Those actually FEEL like quests. Killing 5 rats...not so much.

So with that begs the simple question: How to make grinding fun? WoW answered this with quests. Er...lots and lots of quests. I haven't played enough Pre-WoW MMOs to know whether they have a spamfuck of quests like WoW, so I just assumed they came out with it. Or rather, expanded on it. A lot. The zerg way. Having a clusterfuck amount of quests, despite whatever adjectives I used to bash it, undoubtedly makes the grind from 1 to cap enjoyable. They point clueless players in the right direction, make them explore the world as well as giving them short term satisfaction from the rewards or the sudden exp bump.

Brad Mcquaid (rofl did I spell it right) tried to answer this question with the advent of Vanguard. Looking aside the horrible bugs and codings, Vanguard 1-50, pure leveling-wise, feels a lot like WoW, except that sometimes you can chop fallen treants. It may sound pointless but at least it adds to the fun. But that's all Vanguard added to the 'fun to the grind' topic imho.

Having played VG somewhat showed me the direction WoW clones can head to.  In WoW, the amount of quests seems rather balanced, nothing to complain or notice about.  The number of quests really fit the leveling curve.  VG has shown what happens if you take WoW to a more hardcore level.  20+quests in one area, blatantly asking you to "Run around and kill everything, click everything and loot everything, come back to us and complete everything".  It's really ugly and becomes a grind, because quests feels more and more meaningless and stupid.

An example, an undead infested town consists of Mob A, B, C and Clickable Object D, E.  Outside this town, littering the zone is Mob F.  Hmm, let's think of quests.  Kill X amount of A, B, C and F.  A is a subtype of F so you can kill 1 of them to update 2 quests! Two birds with one stone! Everyone loves that!  Also collect Clickable Object D and E which is usually guarded by Mobs A, B and C, but E is a little rarer so take note of that! Oh ya, remember to pick up Loot G from Mob B and C and Loot H from A.  Oh ya, explore the town too for me! That makes, what, 4 killing quests + 2 looting quests + 2 clicky quests + 1 exploration quest for a grand total of 9 quests for one little area in a zone.  I am exaggerating of course, but the idea is around there.  6 quests leading to an area is normal.  Why don't they just give me a couple of quest that says "Zone Name: Kill Everything!" or "Zone Name: Loot Everything".  Oh ya, because there are some people who like to read and follow the 'lore', who are level 30 and doing level 5 quests.  Sorry, almost forgotten about you guys.  Your love for the world is admirable.  Whoops, I'm flamin'.


Grouping is what makes an MMO an MMO. It's a Massive MULTIPLAYER Online Roleplaying Game. However, because nowadays people are getting busier and busier, and proportion of no-lifers and busy people is getting wider, soloing become inevitable. More than that, soloing allows people who cannot find groups something to do. MMOs must learn to strike the perfect balance. An MMO in which soloing reaps better work-done vs reward tio will be totally pointless.  In the case of WoW, pre-cap dungeons are totally unneeded due to the rate of leveling, the really fast item-level growth, and the ease of soloing.  Most already know that WoW pre-cap is a short tutorial to the actual game.

VG, imho, managed to strike some kind of balance.  Unfortunately, groups in VG is so damn scarce due to the retarded-ly low population.  VG has so much damn potential, but that's for another post for another day.  Still, however much I say how great VG can be, it is still, ultimately, a WoW clone with more stuff.

By now you might be wondering why do I keep referencing to VG and WoW.  Because they are, imho, the best examples to give.  There's not much to talk about, say, City of Heroes/Villains.  CoH/V is like EQ without loot and screwed up classes.  You just grind grind grind grind grind grind grind grind grind like a monkey and grow extremely jealous of Scrappers and maybe correctly spec'ed Blasters because they can solo every damn thing with a lot less risk than grouping and seeing people fuck up.  Still, mob fights are fun.  Then you die, get fuckload of debt, cry and quit.  I don't even want to talk about the instances.

Some people think that leveling is a chore, while others think that it is a fun thing to do.  It is difficult to make a point that leveling is needed.  I would just do away with leveling imo and follow UO's example.  Then again, UO-model MMOs are really different from EQ/WoW-model MMOs, so this is something to think about. The more important questions have to be answered: Is leveling necessary? How to make grinding fun? With more and more casual players entering the market, it is important to cater to them since they are the bulk of your MMO's income.  Also, you must make sure that hardcore players feel that their achievements are equivalent to the time they take to play, compared to casual player.  If I spent 100 hours getting a weapon 2 dps higher than a casual player who only spent 50 hours, I will get very upset.  Obviously.  Saying that, I believe WoW managed to obtain a very good balance in this casual-hardcore catering aspect.


As far as RO-model and WoW-model MMOs are concerned, classes can be easily split into 3 categories, The Holy Trinity: Tank, DPS, Healer, the bare bones of a group.  Without them, groups will have a hard time dealing with mobs.  Smaller categories include Support and Crowd Control.  The trick is to make all your classes in your MMO to feel unique, like 'Class Defining Skills' or more.  All of them MUST feel useful for late game, raid or groups.  Bad example would probably be druids in Everquest.  They are a unique bunch.  They can heal, nuke, support and was one of the few classes to be able to solo.  Forming groups, people might just think 'why the hell would I want a druid?'. For heals, clerics are far far better, wearing better armor, able to give exp-return rezzes, and heal better.  For nukes, or dps, rogues, ranger, necro, wizards and mages can do it so much better.  No reason to grab a druid unless you are hard-pressed trying to find a cleric.

Another bad example would be CoH as stated above.  Good examples include WoW and DDO, but then again there aren't many classes. VG had almost every class as useful as it can be.  I can think of reasons why I want almost every of the 15(?) classes in VG.  I'm looking forward to what AoC can produce.

Class design is really tricky.  If you want to have 3 tank classes, you must make all of them unique as well as useful.  Sometimes I think VG is kinda lame in that aspect.  DKs and warriors are made noticeably more useful than paladins because they have more crit buffs/debuffs.  Rangers have lower dps than Monks but they are also made useful by having crit buffs.  Rogues are awesome dps and also gives crit buffs.  Everything in VG is centered around crits for MASSIVE damage due to finishers.

Still, WoW did a rather nifty job of balancing out all their classes.  At least they made warlocks, paladins, hunters and druids unique and useful (ideal group was supposedly warrior/rogue/shaman/priest).

More to come...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A new look, but somethings never change. (And Tetra)

Well, I shifted here even since I found out wordpress has this awesome 'SHIFT HERE' magic button that works for blogger, livejournal, etc. It is able to MERGE everything you every blogged into one big wordpress blog. Pretty nifty. Looking back at old blog posts, many things changed since then like my attitude and my interests, and many things remained the same, like how I feel about Tekken.

If no one read this 2 million-year-old news yet, Wilson Chia aka Tetra was fired for maoing his manager.

My opinions about this was quite simple: The manager deserved to get slapped. I'd only wished Tetra actually rip him apart. Phenic was probably the worst manager I have ever seen/read about. No matter how you twist the story, it will still be at Phenic's fault: He made his mindless button mashing girlfriend play DOA4 alongside Tetra. After 6 months, according to Tetra, she is still a mindless button masher. Although button mashing is bad enough in 2D games (in GG will cause counter hits for big damage example), I play enough DOA4 to know it is worse. Heck I don't even need brains to fight a button masher.

So this fiancee of Phenic insisted that his girlfriend's skills will work out in the end, again according to Tetra. I have to take Tetra's word for this because, well, only Tetra and Phenic knows about this detail and Tetra will be the one telling the world while Phenic will just deny everything. Supposedly, after 6 months of button mashing, Phenic's girlfriend remained the same and eventually, it didn't really work out in the end, causing SG team to lose a potential $2k/month contract (around there I think), and end up with a $500/month one (I think, and lawl it's worse than attachment pay).

So instead of letting other better girl players play at the DOA4 female category (there are, apparently), he let his lousy button mashing girlfriend to play instead. Madpiss.

And was Phenic is lousy ex-PGR Singapore Team player that died to some random uncle?