Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

Feels like some 'forever alone' post, but nonetheless, Merry Christmas to everyone before the day ends =)

It has been a heck of a long and busy year. I haven't been actively playing games nor watching animes. To me, it felt like the "Disappearance of Haruhi" movie came out just recently when it has already been a year old. Time has passed extremely quickly with me already in my 5th semester! Just one more year to go! ^_^

That aside, I have been drowning myself with some animes I've missed out and those that are currently airing like Working 2, Eureka 7, Guilty Crown, Ben-to, Xam'd, Ika Musume 2, Haganai...just to name a few. Currently trying to catch up on Bakemonogatari as we speak. Game-wise I stole Rorona from my friend and have been playing it everyday since. I think I'll end up completing it faster than Skyrim. The Captain America build I wished for was no-go =(

I'm still trying to look for a cheap legal copy of Flash CS5 to work on some stuff. Meanwhile, I'll use the trial to whip something random while I'm not watching anime, playing games, going out with friends. Looks like it's gonna be a nice holiday =)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Skyrim Review, thoughts and rants.

Already, ten days has passed since Skyrim's release and people are either enjoying it fully while other are beginning to compare it with other games. At first with the previous 2 Elder Scrolls, namely Morrowind and Oblivion (I didn't play the first two) , I thought they were rich yet barren. If you compare Skyrim to old classics like Baldur's Gate, where you plan your party and your characters, go to the deepest dungeons, slay the big dragon and get epic loot, coupled with excellent storytelling, itemization and combat mechanics, Skyrim will automatically seem to pale in comparison. I can see where old school RPG players are coming from and what they yearn for. I am a huge fan of past Black Isle and Troika games and I am still waiting for an RPG that is like theirs

After like 3 iterations, Bethesda refuses to give proper itemization and interesting combat mechanics. You still left click 100 times to melee a monster to death. But people still love it. Recent games I personally enjoy like Witcher 2 got flushed into being a cult hit, sharing the same fate as previous Black Isle games. Yet games like Oblivion (which I personally dislike) are cheered by most gamers as a great RPG. Obviously amongst all the bad thing I found in Oblivion, Bethesda is doing something right which I did not notice and care much about back then because I believed that they were in the wrong.

So the question is, what are they doing right? Why do they choose to stick with mechanics I disagree with after every iteration? I have to stop comparing to the RPGs I know and essentially ask what are they trying to achieve. From the looks of it, Bethesda wants to create an immersive and realistic open world experience, to a certain extent because we know it is not fully possible, feasible and desirable. At the same time, they want to provide constant challenge for the players.

There are a few things below they implemented for this design I wish to discuss and examine. A quick recap and disclaimer though, I do not particularly like any of the mechanics they implemented, but just picking them out and see how is it possible that such mechanics appeal to their target audience, which I assume is just "as many people as possible".

'Blend' Combat Mechanics
In combat, you do not 'autoattack' or execute 'moves'. You simply slash/punch/cast spell. As boring as it sounds, it's actually quite close to what you do in real life. It is debatable whether this is a good or bad approach, but despite arguments, it is a strange undeniable fact that some people do enjoy left clicking 100 times repeatedly to kill a monster so long as he receives the proper feedback. Throughout the past 2 Elder Scrolls games, they did nothing but improve the feedback. Whether the feedback is enough is irrelevant in this discussion. The point is that it is an improvement. Skyrim makes it a little more logical with their new dual-wield mechanic.

This seems strange as it is the reverse of what game designers would want to do with their RPGs. Usually you would think "Let's have this mechanic where players can do combo A or do combo B and get different results!" Witcher 2 had some form of a combo system, Dragon Age was a hotkey-fest, Dark Souls have much focus in tactical maneuvering and usage of weapons. What if there are people who actually find all of them too difficult? Going through playtesting sessions for the games I make, it might not be far from the truth. Ultimately, clicking the left mouse button 100 times is not only logical to the common player, but also easy to adjust to. If you complain about your swings missing because the AI is moving around you, you obviously have not been in a fight.

Seriously, you either like this mechanic or you don't. It offers almost little to no depth, which may seemingly be a bad thing, but can be a good thing.

Enemy and item scaling according to player level has been something in Morrowind, Oblivion and now Skyrim. This part is really tricky. For one, it theoretically gives constant challenge to the players. However, it does break immersion or 'suspension of disbelief'. For example, I should be able to defeat the same named monster easier when I level up. To make matters worse, itemization scales with level as well. The designers are probably hoping that most players do not notice this scaling mechanic and only see the challenge before them. This has improved over the past Elder Scrolls though. It is no longer possible to make a level 1 character and kill trash mobs until the end of the main quest.

On the other hand, without scaling, it would mean that designers have to separate areas into level ranges, just like what most MMOs are doing now. This could run into the risk of players not visiting certain areas because its 'level is too low'. Also, if not done right, players will feel that the world is deliberately crafted and that his path is determined from the start. It's like how in Everquest where players who start in Freeport and just go from Freeport -> East Commons -> West Commons -> etc. In the example of WoW, players who start as an Orc just go from Valley of Trials -> whatever the troll village is called -> Razor Hill -> Barrens.

Somehow they must empower players the freedom to explore where-ever they want without making it too boring or too difficult AND at the same time ensure that certain monsters are a dangerous threat to the new player. They want to provide a world where players can explore, yet they want players to survive most encounters so that they don't feel frustrated. This really feels like some tug-of-war relationship between immersion and the need to provide constant challenge.

I have mixed reviews about Skyrim's execution of this mechanic. Some people said the game scales badly (as in they are getting killed at later levels), some say that the game is too easy (they just kill everything with or without min/maxing). Most of them are still playing Skyrim despite this, so I assume that it is working fine. For me, I haven't encountered any problems yet.

Pitiful Quests
Lack of carrots at the end of most trash quests demotivates many players from playing. Most of the quests do not promise good rewards for the effort you put into it. Is it really a problem? Is it okay to be asked to clear a fort of bandits for nothing more than 100gp and no further progression afterwards? For good measure, 100gp in Skyrim is worth as much as looting 2 or 3 of said bandits you slay. Not to mention that it is possible for you to just travel to the destination without triggering the quest and kill the bandits yourself if you need the gold.

But what if that was not the point of the quests? Essentially, going by their design of having an open world, the main point of quests is probably to gives you a reason to explore. Maybe it allows the players feel that they are doing favors for the NPCs, as opposed to mindlessly walking around to kill monsters. Most of us veteran players know better, but will others know? I myself feel cheated when I was awarded the 100gp, I mean seriously they could really give me more. Then we talk about 'pointless' quests that don't even ask you to explore OR reward you with anything. Maybe the design was to let players feel that the game is more alive? I don't see it, but is the problem with players like me?

The quests does not work out for me, but I can appreciate what they are trying to do. Amazingly, non-hardcore-RPG players I know are able to talk about "the lady who sells potions in Solitude whose daughter was missing in action". For those who don't know (spoilers), there's this alchemist lady in Solitude who simply ask you to talk to a certain person, and return to her once you get information out of him. The reward was non-existent and it is really pretty pointless as a quest, but somehow, people who explore the area remember.

Immersion + Numbers?
I mentioned immersion, but yet there are numbers. What gives? Well, there is a limit to how far you can push the idea of immersion into the game. The hard fact is that for some things, players need to know its exact details. It won't help much if I were to

You can see how they evolved from Morrowind to Skyrim. Morrowind was very detailed as they gave me actual base stats and derived stats to try to min/max. In Morrowind, I can see my Strength, Willpower, Intelligence, Agility, etc. Skyrim is almost totally opaque. The only numbers I see are my gold pieces, the amount of stuff I got, my HP, MP, SP, my weight limit, my skill points, armor rating and . That's about it really. You can tell that they are pushing towards that direction of game play, where players should not need to worry about anything more than what is directly affecting them.

Is this a good thing? I prefer my game transparent, but honestly with their design, I can see why they just choose to hide everything from the players. It is mainly because of this Skyrim feels so mainstream, I believe.

These points are some of the gripes I have about the game (I might add more), which I think makes the game successful. Having written the points down allows me to appreciate the game more than I did before when I was just bashing. Despite this however, I stand by my feelings that Oblivion isn't a good game (Morrowind is better) because there are other points about that game which I totally don't agree with. Skyrim, however, is a huge improvement, enough for me to accept it as a 'good enough RPG'.

I can see how Besthesda's game designers are constantly pulling off a balancing act with all those implementations. They are always pursuing a white/black color but constantly end up somewhere in the grey area.

Finally, I am going to quickly label what I like and hate about Skyrim thus far aside from its game design philosophy.

First with the likes:
- Level Design. Not fantastic, but at least every dungeon I walk into isn't some direct copy of another. At least there are books (yes, I read them, some of them are quite interesting) as a lazy way to fill me in about the dungeon. Some dungeons are actually interesting enough to leave me wondering about it (I think there was one with a forge and ingots of moonstone outside a tomb).
- Graphics. God, I love the harsh snowstorms.
- Performance. Remember when Oblivion was lagging like crazy because it is compiling shaders and scripts on runtime? Skyrim's performance is awesome. I only managed to crash it once by running other games behind and alt-tabbing Skyrim like crazy.
- Shouts. Seriously, I didn't see this coming. Although some are useless, they are quite interesting to have.
- Dragons done right. Last dragon I saw was Dragon Age which isn't really interesting to fight with given its predictable behavior and small arena. I think I saw my friend fight a dragon in Dark Souls which was quite impressive, but it is scripted in an area. Dragons in Skyrim can appear anywhere and they kind of manage to get its AI working for every area they are in (i.e. they have to dynamically allow the dragon to access its surroundings). There are rare bugs of course but I don't really expect them to get it perfectly right even with tons of testing .

And what I didn't like:
- Talents. Firstly, they are badly designed. Secondly, I think they do not fit the design philosophy of their game. They could execute it more elegantly by letting NPCs teach you certain talents, maybe make you get talents by doing something (block 100 hits to get 20% better a blocking perk!). They could do some Fallout 3 thing where they give you perks based on the random things you do (kill 100 rats = 25% better at killing rats). I strongly believe that will fit in much better than what they have now.
- Spellcrafting. It was there in Morrowind and Oblivions. Where has it gone? It was easily one of the more unforgettable mechanic they implemented. I suspect it's because of the new implementation of the dual-casting mechanic which could cause problems for the spellcrafting system.
- Horses. Goddamit just get it right already!
- Riding horses. Why is it not in first person?
- Interface. I suspect that they are catering more towards console. In fact, it is quite obvious. The mouse input is occasionally buggy.
- Ugly interface. It's just looks really primitive to the point I think that they are placeholder art.
- Fast Travel. I should really have a whole rant dedicated to this topic. I hate the concept of Fast Travel, especially in the game like Skyrim. The carriages that transport you to main cities are actually good enough and it works just like how subways work. I'll probably talk more of this another time.

I think Skyrim is a pretty good game and an improvement from its predecessors. It is great in its own way and I really shouldn't compare it with conventional RPGs. It is different. It is a game catered more for Explorers than Achievers, almost just like how there are people who like Minecraft and those who don't. I can see how Achievers can easily get bored with its content, but for Explorers, this game is a friggin' gold mine.

I will definitely keep playing the game with my 'Captain America' unarmed cat build. I'm honestly not that much of an "Explorer" type player (I actually prefer to 'explore' different builds and play-styles) but I would love to see this build being viable in the game at Master level. Once I reach near end-game, I will try to post a guide on my build =)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wow, time flies!

I can't believe it has been a month since my last post. Everything just got more hectic and with upcoming games lined up, updating this blog regularly with reviews does not seem likely, feasible and even worth the effort considering the hits they are getting and considering how unlikely I am to look back at the reviews. Also, considering my time constraint for now and perhaps the future, I will cease cooking up reviews and talk more about what's going on around me. When I do post otherwise, I will aim them to be useful posts and guides: About game design, guides to certain games (I actually have a newbie 3rd-edition DND guide coming up), and some help regarding different game development problems based on what I have learned.

The help I want to provide is mostly because I see a lack of help for aspiring game devs. Most google searches online results in something technical enough that might be beyond the understanding of newcomers. There is also lack of animation/interactive diagrams, which helped me a lot during trying to understand what is going on ( is a nice website with interactive diagrams, for example). This doubles up as a place for me to dump my knowledge in case I forget how to implement them and also helps me better understand them. Teaching a subject is one of the best ways to reinforce your understanding of it.

Ideally, I plan to get out of blogspot and move to a nicer web-host, although I do not know how likely that will be. For now, I will just start here and generate more content like I always do.

So yes, it is time for a change. I am not free as I once was and probably won't be for a long time. It does not help when I enjoy spending my spare time programming stuff. Plus, I think it'd be worth my time and effort to create something interactive that everyone could enjoy reading and playing around with. Besides, it is the same reason why I want to become a game designer: To create something others could enjoy and have fun with.

Don't expect stuff to appear soon though. I'm still rather busy, both playing games and making them =)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A little jaded

It's Fall, the second Fall I am having since I started school. Have you seen the upcoming games scheduled to release and those that already released recently? Even when I filter them only to games I am actually interested in, the list is still huge. Dead Island. Gears of War 3. Dark Souls. Arkham City. Battlefield 3. Skyrim. Space Marine. UMVC3. KOFXIII. I don't even want to mention the several indie games I want to try.

This is gonna be one heck of an expensive and busy vacation. It's the best time for me to catch up on what I have been left out for...possibly the entire year?  I also have to start saving up for a PSPVita for the next year.

Also have you seen the trailer for the upcoming Game of Thrones game? It's called 'A Game of Thrones: Genesis'. Currently, just watching it gives me goosebumps (it's the video above). I hope it's actually good.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I'm still alive!

Hi guys, just letting everyone who somehow visits this blog know that I am still alive. My 4th semester have started and so far it's been looking great as my maths-heavy modules are disappearing from my schedule, replaced by design and other non-core art modules. Allow me to ramble a bit...the workload feels just as much, but now we seem to be tackling more abstract problems. It is fun, yet difficult, but refreshing.

I'm trying my very best keeping this blog alive. I learned a buttload of things just by looking at my old reviews and rants and I am glad I am still getting page hits for some of them. However, time really have not been on my side and there are far more things to do and explore. I have definitely been playing less and less games recently, but Fall is coming and there will be tons of upcoming games I am eager to play.
I have tons of things to share, from random half-done articles in my iTouch, to things I learned in school that can help small time game developers start up their basic games (non-disclosure stuff aside, of course). There are still games I actively play like WoW TCG, but I have no idea what to type about it on a blogger level other than card reviews. At most I can give deck compositions, cards which are key in my friend's decks and the like. Unforunately, WoW (and Magic), works on blocks so whatever review I do will be outdated in a matter of months. I'll see how it goes.
Aside from that, DND is occasionally poking me now and then. I'm in the midst of typing out a newbie guide because I realize, to a great extent, how new players constantly not see and focus on what's REALLY important in a party and also in building their character. It is hard and tedious to actually pen down and try to explain to them how to plan their characters and how it would suit their party, but I'll try regardless.
Overall, I think it's gonna be a great semester for me =)
That doesn't mean I'm any more free than I was >_<

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Semester 3 down!

This third semester in Digipen really takes the cake. Words cannot describe how happy I am about the end of it. For the past 4 days I have don't nothing but play my hearts out and enjoy every minute of sleep I can get. This semester has been incredibly hectic and painful; day after day of Pepsi and coffee and tea, and we are still worried about failing modules.

I'm glad that it's all finally over. This video more or less describes what I feel at the end of it. I just hope the next semester won't be as bad. From the looks of it, it's either gonna be just as bad or less, but I can't really say until the semester starts again. You think staying back in school from 9-6 is bad you should try 9 till 11.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: "SpaceChem"

Ever want to feel like an engineer? Or experience what it is like to be one? If you loved puzzle games like Picross, Sudoku and enjoy spending hours on an your office computer playing minesweeper, you should definitely give SpaceChem a try.

You play a Reactor Engineer, unbinding chemical atoms and synthesizing them to create new compounds to fulfill your quota. In each reactor, you control two Waldos, which are basically things you control to do stuff to atoms and molecules (being really vague here I know). The trailer video should roughly explain what's going on:

So far my experience with SpaceChem has been nothing but positive. It has polished, simple graphics which is good because at higher levels you will most probably be forming a mess so...messy that it is difficult for you to keep track what's happening. If you have ever programmed, it feels alike to looking at nested while loops.

I do agree that this is not a game for everyone, but if you enjoy puzzle games, do give the demo a shot. The cool thing about this game is that it will ask you if you want to record your solutions and post them on YouTube, so that you can compare your solutions with others around the world.

And don't worry if you made a mess like the video below:

Monday, August 1, 2011


When I watched Evo2k11 this weekend and when SG's Kun Xian was eliminated from MVC3, David spent a few moments talking about Singapore and our current impact to them. That kinda took me back years when everyone was still dreaming about what we have today, including myself.

When I first entered the arcade in 2005 (I think), it was in a sorry state. Most arcades around SG at that time were dying, dead or barely surviving. People were shunned by arcades being run by gangsters and not a nice place to hang out, especially for youngsters like me. Still I remained; we remained. Playing fighting games in the arcade gives a feeling I am unable to experience with other games. Sure, I had attended LAN parties playing Red Alert 2 with friends, trying my hand at competitive Warcraft 3 when it first released but none gave the exhilaration fighting games gave me. Maybe it's because fighting games are more personal; unlike RTS where I pity my ARMY vs your ARMY, it's just my CHARACTER vs your CHARACTER. The layer separating the players are thin compared to other games and this probably generates a lot of excitement, but that's another topic for another day.

Back then, before my National Service, we were a really small community. CVS2 had around 10 players I can list at the top of my head. Regulars can probably be counted with a hand. Guilty Gear wasn't well received; players from that community have to wait for months for Slash to arrive and even longer for Accent Core. When I first joined the arcade scene with CVS2, it was beginning to die. Before NS, it almost withered out. Now it is officially a dead game.

I had always dreamed of the arcade scene making it big one day. I bet I'm not the only one. ArcadeScrubs was formed to attempt its revival. I can tell plans were big even though I am not directly involved. The 1 night Revival Tournament was really the best tournament I have ever attended even though I lost early. There was hype, there was hope, but it was not to be. Everything after that just went downhill. Versus, a seasonal league, was created and failed after a couple of months. Everything just went silent and arcade never rose. At that point, I just decided to start focusing on other stuff, even though I still frequent the arcade just to be around friends who share the same common fire and hunger to kill. I think it was around this time CVS2 really died. Most of the old players started moving on with their life and rarely returned to the scene.

My possibly only real contribution to the scene before entering National Service was just a small idea to come up with a fun wiki of all the players. That, like most plans back then, never took off due to many technical reasons. I intended to take it down, but the articles were so fun and creative that I just left it there in case the future generation somehow managed to stumble upon it (which they somehow did ^^). After that, I have decided to move on. Striving to become a top player stopped becoming important to me, and I started looking into other games that interest me. I stopped practising as often, which was indirectly a good thing for my mum cus she always complains about the sound in the night.

Despite all that, I could never truly give up fighting games. I have tried several attempts and it never succeeded. I still find myself occasionally picking up the stick to play, watching replays and practising some moves (though rarely nowadays), even doing old CVS2 combos on my PS2 when I have the spare time.

So I guess everything changed between the time I was in National Service to the time before I entered Digipen. Blazblue and SSF4 appeared bringing the newer generations into the scene. Colosseum was formed directly opposite Virtual Land with the direction to create a better scene for the players and create competition. was also formed during that time period. In my opinion, that was the start of everything. There were obviously complications, but thankfully that all worked out to give what we have today, and what we dreamt of having yesteryear.

Serious props to all that happened and all the players who made everything possible. This is a new generation for SG's fighting game scene and I can't wait for what is to come in the future. And mad props to Xian representing SG in more ways than one.

Btw, MVC3 is the best game in the world.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Busy busy busy!

Wow, it has been like, a month since the last post? The workload right now in school was quite incredible and I barely had time to sleep on weekdays, let alone play on weekends. That caused me to push Witcher 2 to one side, much to my dismay. Witcher 2 really looks incredible and will probably be the best RPG this year (thus far).

On a lighter note, I have been spending my spare time playing Terraria, which was released semi-recently. It's a pretty fun game and you can sink in quite deep if you are those explorer/achiever hybrid gamer types... especially those who love to explore. Some say it's a Minecraft clone but I would say they are quite different. However, I won't go into the Mincraft vs Terraria battlegrounds. To me, it's quite pointless to compare them. Hopefully once I have the time, I'll spend some time reviewing it.

On a even better note, board games are just landsliding into my life every couple of weeks. This is make me consider reviewing not only video games and animes, but also board games when time isn't choking me. Thus far I've played Ascension, Resident Evil, Cutthroat Caverns, Nuts, Poo, Falling, Aye Dark Overlord, and more with other schoolmates when we are really tired of working. Saboteur 2 just sitting around the corner for this week :)

And lastly, July is coming. ^_^

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Achievements in Games

Remember back then when you played your good old Starcraft, Baldur's Gate or, for those super old schoolers, Asteroids or Rogue, achievements were defined by you and those around you. Back then, winning was the only goal of the game.

Possible History of Achievements?
Along the way, some genius thought that to keep their games going, player-defined achievements and goals are not enough. So this guy, whoever he is, went ahead and place achievements in his games. Then suddenly, consoles have it compulsory for every game to have it. It wasn't until I got my X360, and a couple of "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED"s popping up to make me feel really really good, when I realized what an elaborate trap it was.

Achievements are like drugs
That year I was rather hooked onto achievements. It tempts your inner perfectionist self. If you are a casual player, seeing your first virgin "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED" makes you curious. It's like a hook; you might search all the possible achievements and when you look at ALL the empty spaces, something inside you will feel empty as well. It's like a hook. Casual or not, you will be tempted. If you fall into temptation, suddenly you will leave your life behind and join the ranks of the hardcore players. Thinking about it, it's no different from drugs, just that they shove the cocaine right in your throat before you can start protesting.

Networking made it worse. From a board perspective, it's like an MMO. You achieve -> you show someone -> that someone acknowledges it -> you feel GOOOOOD. As far as PSN or XBL is concerned, well, they saved everyone the trouble since achievements are stored in their server, so everyone can see what everyone else has achieved at all times. You might think they are simple-minded. Well, I would say you are just jealous, elitist or couldn't be bothered. It's natural, not all products are for all consumers, but heck achievements are something most people in the world like. It's like a luxury item...just that it's not so material, so it might not get gals for you. Maybe give gaming a few more decades to grow and we'll see how that turns out.

Utilizing the power of Achievements
I looked through some games' achievements. It became obvious that some games do not fully utilize the system. Ninja Gaiden 2 or Devil May Cry 4, for instance, have almost all their achievements ridiculously hard. It is obviously catered for hardcore players, which is what I don't get. The game is catered to (semi) hardcore-players, so why must ALL the achievements follow suit? Achievements are the easiest bait to draw in the casual audience. Just set maybe 1/3rd of the achievements to be relatively easy to obtain and you are probably set to draw them in. Tweak them a bit (like making all your achievements progressive, or separating them into easy/medium/hard to get) and you are good to go. The opposite can be said for hardcore gamers. They want challenge? Let them have some, but not ALL. Idealistically, this will merge the casual and the hardcore audiences.

The system is so powerful, yet so underused. At this point, I believe that a video game designer should seriously take a look at 'Achievements'. Even better, reward them for it. Rewards are soooooo powerful. EVERYBODY loves to be rewarded. "You killed 1000 orcs, now you get +5% bonus to kill orcs!". Think about that. Would a hardcore player be tempted sink time to kill 1000 orcs? I would. Would the casual players be tempted? They would be tempted. At least they would be tempted. Better than NOTHING. In psychology, this is called 'Positive Reinforcement'. Suddenly those stupid orcs you probably randomly designed as some random encounter would become a key creature to your game. From here, there is another dimension to explore about a designing creature.

And it's not just creatures or mobs alone. Levels, items, weapons, NPCs can all do the same thing. "Talk to NPC_X 10 times? You unlocked a mini game!". This example makes player feel that the world is bigger and more interesting. "Hit 9999 times with a cursed weapon that drains your health? It's now upgraded to a super item!". The possibilities are endless. Knowing this, I do not how FF13 came about in this age and time but that's another story for another time.

My thoughts on an interesting read
Here's an interesting read which talks about how to design achievements:
The Cake Is Not a Lie: How to Design Effective Achievements, Part 2

To dumb it down, the designer who wrote this broken achievements down to two kinds: Unexpected Achievements and Expected Achievements. Basically Unexpected Achievements come about as a surprise to players, especially new players. This is precisely the type of achievements needed to draw casual audiences in, the 'hook' that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. From there, you might want to lead them to easier 'expected' achievements and subsequently harder ones.

In the article, he mentioned having delayed feedback, as players become more experienced. This basically means you should not spoon-feed all your achievements. Give them some, let them work for the rest.

He does raise a good point about games that cause people to 'zone' though, or in my words, enter Flow; a state of mind where an individual is so focused on his task that he forgets the world around him. It really depends on the game. The article mentioned temporary achievements like DOTA's "MONSTER KILL!" which actually doesn't break the flow of the game. On the contrary, the feedback is integral and builds up adrenaline of the player, building up on the state of Flow the person is in.

Aside from that, the others DO break the flow. I still feel that Starcraft 2 shouldn't inform the player of the achievement they unlock in-game; it should be done AFTER the game is over. Immediate feedback, as the article mentioned, is not always good especially for experienced players going for greater challenges. And as far as I know, PS3 lags a bit when an trophy is unlocked while playing MVC3 and that's annoying as hell.

So when do you show the feedback? Does it break the flow of my players? It is annoying? Is it helping? Are they really needed? What am I trying to obtain with them? What message am I conveying to the players? Is it too hard? Too easy? How do I draw players in with that achievement? Is it placed at the right place? Am I expecting the player to achieve this at this time? The questions just go on and on. These are important points to consider when you design achievements into your game. There is so much you can do and if there's one thing I learnt for the past 2 semesters about making a game, is that the most important ingredient in a game is FEEDBACK.

And this one simple flash game simply illustrates some of my points:
Achievement Unlocked

Cheers and happy designing.

EDIT: fixed some grammar @ May 12th 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: "Patapon 3 "

There are quite a few mixed reviews about Patapon 3 as many people do not like the direction it's taking. No longer do you command a horde of patapons to battle in Patapon 3. Instead, you command 4 (only 4, don't look at the trailers) really beefed up patapons, one of them being your main character. Some patron fans dislike the change, but honestly not everyone wants another Patapon 2 grindfest. Patapon 3 also attempts to delve into the multiplayer aspect of the game, so it sensibly elaborated and enhanced the heroes from Patapon 2, as well as porting over Patapon 2's multiplayer gameplay to single player. This makes alot of sense since both modes will no longer be treated differently.

There isn't really much to bash about the game. In a way you can say they made the game more mainstream, in a good way. Basically each character you control now has an archetype and depending on which archetypes the are, they will gain access to different classes. You will select your main character's archetype at the start but you can access other archetypes once your basic archetype's class hits level 15, so essentially you will get to try out all classes in one playthrough.

That is the main change in Patapon 3. There are other small changes like architems. Once you level an equipment past level 10, you will choose it's type to be your architem. Architems can leveled past your blacksmith level (which starts at 10). Once you get an architem past the next ten levels, you blacksmith level will increase, allowing you to upgrade your other items to that level. One thing to note is that if you want to change architem, it's level will drop to your blacksmith level. However you can go to your friend's blacksmith and upgrade the type of weapon he has choosn as his architem without suffering any penelties. Sounds a little complicated, and I didn't really get it the first time either. An example: you choose spear as your architem and upgrade it to level 27. Blacksmith level is now 20 because you hit the 2nd tenth milestone. All your items can be upgraded to level 20 until your architem hits 30.

If you skipped the wall of text above, you probably made the right choice but it was necessary to at least have it there because it's one of the important changes to the game. Aside from that, they removed a all of those mini games from Patapon 2. In fact, I can safely say that Patapon 3 is not the same as its predecessors, so there are bound to be people who hate it, and those who have a newfound love for it. Multiplayer becomes a key factor to the game much like Monster Hunter or other raid-based MMOs out there. Sure you can solo your way through, but higher level dungeons are multiplayer-only and to experience the whole game, you HAVE to play with your friends. Period.

As far as plot is concerned, Patapon 3 writes its scripts in comedy to the point where its almost like those random Cartoon Network shows. You will laugh a bit, raise your eyebrows a bit and sometimes facepalm but it's enjoyable all around. Patapon 3 really narrows (again, not a bad thing) its scope to the individual Patapons and that makes the game enjoyable in a different way.

Patapon 3 is different, 'nuff said. There will be haters, but looking it as a solitary game, it's definitely worth giving it a try before making any rush conclusions. It's still grindy as hell though, just not as much as Patapon 2. Below is a gameplay footage (walkthrough really) found on YouTube so click at your own risk as there much be spoilers. I just wanted to show the dialog of the characters mostly.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: "Portal 2"

Short version of the review:
Portal 2 rocked!

Long version:

More Gameplay Elements
We shall observe Portal 2 as a consumer, a game designer and a game developer. There are so many things done right that I could not possibly list them all out. But first, we must talk about what are we to expect from a sequel of a game which revolves around one and ONLY one mechanic: Shooting Enter and Exit portals. From a game designer perspective, one mechanic can only entertain for so long. The question is not how to find new ways to use the mechanic (it's nigh impossible, too much effort for possibly a dead end), but how to make the mechanic act on other gameplay elements (the easy, fun way out).

So rightfully, as a consumer, one should not expect new ways of using the portal gun as it is. One should look forward to more elements to use the portal gun on. As far as this aspect is concerned, the Portal 2 team came up just enough to entertain us. From the gravity beam, the 3 different gels to the catapult thingies, it's more than enough to mix and match and come up with puzzles that will entertain us.

But of course, just having elements is not enough. Elements are just that: elements. Once an engine is up, elements are easy to implement. In fact, only the level designers and possibly the QAs are having headaches over it. So much more can be done and the team indeed delivered.

The team proceeded to create a more engaging storytelling. Back in Portal 1, it's basically no different from a flash puzzle game only that it is in 3D FPS-style with Glados randomly talking crap at the background. There's no character development at all. Now, in Portal 2, the characters you interact are more alive. Glados suddenly had a history, developed over time and her speeches are more engaging to the character. Same for the new Wheatley character, whose role provided an interesting twist to the game (alright I will not spoil). Even your character received some kind of background.

The team also broke away from just going room to room. There are quite a number of areas that are outside of the testing chambers. Basically, from a designer point of view, the consumer was given another environment to play with. This might seem to be a small change, but it affects the player in a huuuuge way. For one, he does feel that he was given more freedom, and more freedom, fake or not, in any designer or consumer's books, is a bloody good thing.

Anyways, I'll go as far as to say that Bioware has a thing or two...maybe A LOT to learn from these guys.

The final thing to note is the graphics. Again, there isn't much I can type about graphics in the blog, but I can say that Portal 2's graphics is amazing. Seriously when you get the game, before every room just look at the surroundings. Dynamic soft shadows, shattered glass, water dynamics, the gel mechanic's decals on different surfaces, light, etc. The best thing is that they wasted no time in showing off their graphics. Right from the start of the game, you get to observe how light and shadow changes around you when things fall apart. It's no joke man.

Overall, Portal 2 is a great game. I can't wait to actually try to co-op mode, which is a brilliant add-on and another ball game by itself. It's really nice to see a novel idea go this far in the games industry. It gives me, and possibly other aspiring developers out there comfort that such novelty is Still Alive, that the game industry isn't just filled with the same old FPS, RPGs and Facebook games.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Semester 2 is DONE!

At last, semester 2 is done and over with. It has been really tiring throughout the semester; my professor saying that I'll be busy this semester is really not kidding at all. So finally it's time for an update.

Firstly, I have updated my ABOUT section a bit as well as my Reviews list section if anyone even found it. It's up there in the navigation bar when you mouse over one of the tabs.

Secondly, the 2011 election. It's finally time for me to vote what I feel is right for my country. This election is gonna be huge; I saw videos of very strong speeches made by the opposition as well as from the People's Action Party. It does look like change is FINALLY coming to this little island. I won't rant on about politics here, but I do hope that the outcome will give all of us a better life.

Given the week off, I'm hoping to do a quick physics system for my next semester's game project as well as get started on Arcanum (the troika game) and of course finish off with Portal 2 and wrap it up with a review.


Omg George R. Martin, it's about TIME =D

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: "Dragon Age 2"

Good god, I don't even know where to begin. Looking back at my Dragon Age Origins review, I keep wondering where did Bioware went wrong with this game. Seriously, there weren't many things wrong with the previous game. The biggest complaints I had were mainly balance issues and a couple of personal opinions which disagreed with the game.

I'll list down the main problems up here first in case I forget as I write:
- Stats, Weapon restrictions/customizing equipment
- Fortitude
- Bugged import feature/ Buggy characters
- Lack of animation cancelling in combat/ Animation in general
- Lack of strategic view
- Incredibly cheaply generated instances
- Plot

From here on, be warned that some sections contain spoilers.

First off, I'll like to briefly discuss the good parts, however few the game has. Dragon Age 2 does has some improvements which I find pretty decent like the new Skill system. I'm kinda in support for the skill tree, although it might be just personal preference. I find it much cleaner and much more fun navigating the trees. Aside from that, there's the improved graphics, which I don't really have much to comment about.

Then everything just went downhill from there...

Stats and equipment restrictions
Bioware, or EA for that matter, I understand that you are streamlining stats for the sake of the masses. It's so obvious: Heavy armor can be worn if you have high strength AND constitution, light armor can be worn if you have high dexterity AND cunning, and mage robes can be worn if you have high magic AND willpower. On top of that, bows and daggers require dexterity, staffs require magic and sword/shield and two handed swords require strength. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where this is going. It means that as a warrior, it simply does not make sense to try to play a light armor dex-based warrior because if I invest into dexterity and cunning, I won't have the stats to carry warrior weapons!

But why not just pretend to be a rogue then? Can't you carry daggers? Well, apparently Bioware decided to go "Well, what kind of warriors carry bows?" or something and only allowed swords/shields and 2 handed swords to only be used by warriors, daggers/bows to only be used by rogues and staffs to only be used by mages, on top of the stat requirements to wield them. Then what the hell, don't bother allowing me to customize my stats then. If you want to streamline a mechanic, just do it all the way. Why bother my rogue with other stats such as 'willpower' and 'strength'? Already by passing half of my stat gain to dexterity and cunning, I'm finding it a little hard to keep up with the equipment I found and it hard to find the remaining points to spend onto other stats. Seriously, if they are so supportive of restricting important things such as equipment, they might as well save themselves the trouble and restrict us from customizing stats.

This is a wonderful sub-stat that Strength governs. Apparently Bioware found it cool to send your characters flying when they are hit by a mob with higher strength value or something. Apparently, they also find it cool to tell you everytime you die in the loading screen that "All classes have their way of escaping. For instance, Fighter can use Stonewall, Rogues can use Evade and Mages can use Mind Blast". F*** it does not work when you are stunned or knocked back goddammit. What good are such abilities when you can't use them while stunned? Once I recover from my knockback, I'm just gonna WASD my way out of safety instead of spending stamina to enter ANOTHER animation and risk myself getting killed if the skill did not do what it's supposed to do (for mages and rogues, it's reducing aggro) because sometimes it doesn't.

It's gonna stupid to see a random guy or monster suddenly hitting your rogue/mage and he/she is doomed to die unless you somehow manage to stop him. Seriously my rogue have skills like Inconspicuous and Evade and I hardly use them because once I get hit, I'm gonna get chain stunned to death anyway. You may say I lack skillz or something, so then how would you use Evade? You obviously don't use it when you are not getting hit, and you can't use it when you are getting hit. So what, add strength to my rogue? I might as well make another warrior.

And if you are going to say I am supposed to manage the aggro with it, well take a look at the description: "The rogue leaps backward. Enemies within melee range will often seek an easier target instead." The second statement OBVIOUSLY implies that I use it WHEN I AM GETTING TARGETED (which usually translate to getting hit). Well, if I'm targeted and unlucky enough to fail my dodge chance with a 80% defense (to an even mob), what then? The skill don't even make sense at all. Same for Mind Blast: "The mage projects a wave of telekinetic force that knocks enemies back and diverts hostile attention." What good is it if you can't use it when stunned or knocked down?

Bugged import feature/ Buggy characters
There are a few bugs like the horrible Merrill Act 3 quest bug but such bugs are unfortunate since it does require quite a deal of testing to find. But Fenris' and Isabella's friend talent bug? What? This is so damn easy to test. It leaves me wondering if the developers even checked the numbers properly when they implemented the talents. For those who don't know, when you become good friends with Isabella, and if they are in your party, your main character will be hit by a permanent 5% attack speed DEBUFF every time you load the game. Check the video of a victim here:

This bug is rather unforgivable and it's really not that hard to test. This leads to me think that there is something funny about whoever programmed the Save/Load aspect of the game. Maker's Sigh potion also had a bug regarding Save/Load.

On top of that, they screwed those who imported from their Dragon Age: Origins DLC save or Awakenings save. Apparently, romances and other flags are not toggled properly when imported. This is apparent when Leliana appeared in the Exiled Prince DLC and implicitly tells my character that she did not romance with my Origins character. It may seem like a small thing but it has several several implications. Firstly in invokes the wrath of the perfectionist fanboy and people like me who purposely replayed Dragon Age: Origins so that I could port my character over. Secondly it raises the concern about future DLCs and expansions. Why can't Bioware even get something as simple as an import feature or Save/Load right? It feels like they are abandoning this franchise.

Lack of animation cancelling in combat
When I first saw the new animations, I thought it was a change for the better, but I could not be so wrong. During an animation, I am only allowed to perform a command (drinking potions or casting spells) only after the character completed the current animation. As if the Fortitude thing I stated above isn't bad enough. Not only Bioware thinks enemies chain stunning me is a fun thing, they even went ahead to implement self-inducing stun! It was ridiculous to see my mage low on half, pausing the game, switching the camera to his view and see him in the middle of his staff-twirling antics (the last animation for auto-attack that takes 2 full seconds), and realize that he refuses to drink the damn health potion until his animation is done.

It's not like it's even hard to implement animation canceling. Oh wait! If you have coded animations before, you'll know that animation cancels from one to another naturally UNLESS you put code to restrict it. What does this mean? It means that Bioware intended to restrict your characters from cancelling his animation, so that he can't suddenly drink a potion in the middle of his attacks. Yes Bioware, aesthetically it's good. Mechanics-wise, it's horrible, not fun and ruins one of the main features Dragon Age claims to bring (remember they emphasized strategic thinking in combat?). Speaking of which...

Lack of strategic view
Seriously Bioware. The best thing that EVER happened to me in Dragon Age: Origins is the existence of his semi-ingenious mechanic that allows me to see most of the battlefield from a bird-eye view. Why did you take it away? Is it because you want to be in sync with the console versions? Is it because you suddenly decided not to make combat strategy, but instead more arcade? Might as well just turn the whole game into an FPS then. Otherwise, I just don't understand why it was removed. The camera is restrictive and painful enough to control in battles already with all the weird corner issues. If your reason is to make it more arcade-style, it STILL doesn't make sense from the previous reason (animation cancelling). There seem to be almost no direction in the game just by considering these points. It seems that the guys making Dragon Age 2 had no idea what made Dragon Age 1 good.

If they are taking into reference Mass Effect 2, they really are idiots. They are DIFFERENT games. Mass Effect can live without strategic view because it's mostly a point and shoot game. Their enemies are based on that. You are not going to see enemies chain spells of doom on you. In Dragon Age, knowing where each and every mage on the field is important. Knowing where the low-hp mobs are is important. Knowing where the archers are important. EVEN MORE SO when you give me crappy mechanics like Fortitude and restricting my animation cancels.

Incredibly cheaply generated instances
I've gone through instancing and ranted much about it in the past, but this takes it to another level. I wanted to kill someone when I went through all the random missions in Mass Effect 1. All the missions look the same as each other because of instancing. But it's okay. Those are just very unimportant sidequests.

But Dragon Age 2? When I saw Fenris' mansion's layout look exactly the same as the Bartrand mission and MANY MANY other sidequests (the Blood Mage that killed your mother quest, Silent Sisters (?) quest, the list goes on...), I was disgusted. But the worst, the most dirty trick they did was to give me the map of the dungeon and find out that most of the corridors are inaccessible. Like the ONLY difference (aside from minor texture changes and other aesthetics etc) between Fenris' mansion and the Silent Sisters mansion was that different doors are locked, but I was able to see the entire map (which ultimately looked the same). Otherwise, both mansions are EXACTLY the same as far as layout is concerned. It's disgusting. I thought Mass Effect 1 had it bad. This is not even trying. I can't even say that it's called instancing. From what I've studied so far, this is very close to 'cloning'.

Finally we come to the final ingredient. There're so many ways to begin. When I tried to explain how discontinued the plot seemed to my friends, it was difficult. The overall story is actually digestible, but the plot was bad. What I meant was the way the story was told, and how the game lead me through the story. Lemme try to explain.

First you tell me that Hawke was from Lothering, ran away from the darkspawn to Kirkwall, find out that their uncle used up all their money and tells you that you need to find work. Hawke then finds someone to serve for a year in return for allowing her into Kirkwall. Fair enough. It's just a prologue.

Next, time skip 1 year. You tell me Hawke decided to go to the Deep Roads with some dwarves to get rich. After 200000 pointless quests, none more epic than the next, you managed to get enough money to allow the dwarves to let you into their merry party. Then in the Deep Roads, you found a curse idol, the leader of the expedition, Bartrand, stole it and locked you up in the cave where you found it. Obviously, you found a way to leave the cave.

Chapter 2, you tell me that Hawke became rich. Eventually Varric found out and decided to seek his brother Bartrand for revenge. You found him and do whatever. Curse idol cannot be found (or most of it anyway). Qunari attacks Kirkwall, you fight for Kirkwall, you meet leader of templar and leader of mages. Qunari was defeated and you suddenly become Champion.

Okay let's stop here. The next chapter is going to be the FINAL chapter. So after hours into the game, I still have no fucking clue who the BBEG, or what drives Hawke, which ultimately means that the game does not play with my intrigue and feed my curiosity enough for me to continue. To put it simply, there is no hook and no bait. If you are saying that those does not matter, you are wrong. A story without hook is not a story; it's a documentation or a biography. In fact, my companions are more interesting than me. They have their goals and BBEGs. They know what they want. When I played Hawke to this point, I had no idea what Hawke wants. He/She feels like some errand boy/girl running around aimlessly to do everyone's bidding as long as it is within his/her interest.

So the qunari is not the bad guy. So Bartrand is not the bad guy. Suddenly in chapter 3, you are telling me that the leader of the templars is the BBEG? Wtf? I just met her and she had NOTHING to do with whatever I was interested in in the previous chapters. And why she became bad? Oh apparently her sword has the cursed idol crafted into it. My brain just exploded. It reminded me about the crew in FF8 'suddenly' remembered that they are all from the same orphanage in the middle of disk 2. And I thought back than this was bad. I really didn't expect Dragon Age 2 to top it, doing the exact same 'revelation', only this time you tell me at the END of the game. Not only that, you tell me that the templar leader is a possible important NPC only at the START of chapter 3 and confirmed that she is the BBEG ONLY BEFORE the FINAL quest of the whole game. It utter crap.

Compared to DA:O, DA2 had almost no epic moments. In DA:O, the dwarf quest was really epic. The elf quest was kinda epic. The mage quest was awesome. The human quest was also get the idea. I never complained about DA:O being bad in terms of plot really. The whole playthrough of DA2 was just underwhelming. I can barely remember most of the quests. None of the quests in DA2 tops the DA:O elf quest which I thought was the worst among the main quests in that game (and it was still very well done despite that).

Well, that's about how I felt about DA2. On the bright side, they did implement the cross-class exploit system from Vanguard: Saga of Heroes which I liked alot. But the bad stuff far far FAR outweighs the good stuff. I honestly felt that Dragon Age Origins is a lot a lot better and that Dragon Age 2 was a huge setback. I will still keep it around in case of further add-ons, but as vanilla, it's a huge disappointment.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: "Civilization 5"

I'll be frank: there's really nothing much to review about Civilization 5. That's why there isn't a review of it until now when I decided that it deserved one. When a sequel held on to the foundations that made it's predesessors good, it will end up just as good if not better...most of the time anyway. So this review will be rather short and will be a nice breather for me from my work and the painful upcoming review I'm still writing about Dragon Age 2.

Civ5 has changed quite a bit from 4. It seems less number crunchy, much more aggresive and more streamlined in general. Graphics were better but I think they are still using the read/write method to advance the game, causing end turn wait time to increase progressively. I guess it's asking too much from them to change their engine for future installments of the game.

The game is thankfully much more aggressive and combat is thankfully less nonsensical. You can no longer stack units in one grid so no more giant tower of doom or giant pillar of defense. Ultimately, this mechanic nerds both attackers and defenders, espacially defenders. It's not cool when your city with one unit is surrounded by 6 units.

The grids are also changed to being hexagonal. This make mug more sense from a designer point if view as square based grids can be problemetic when taking into consideration diagonals. Culture growth is also less nonsensical. Each growth now only gain one tile instead of one radius unit (which is an exponential increase). This also forces people to be more aggressive in expanding. Culture also give you points to spend on tech trees for your entire city. Call it biased or whatever but I loved the idea of skill trees so I obviously support this change.

There are other minor changes such as City-States which are basically neutral cities you can take over or persuade to aid you. The game also seemed more streamline now; no more missionaries to spread religion for example. Upkeep is also added to prevent nonsensical flooding of units if the city has nothing more to do.

Overall, I loved all the changes made to the game. What can I say? Sed Meier did it again. If you are a fan of previous civ games, I highly recommend this. It's lost a few things that made civ4 great but the new mechanics added do more than enough to compensate.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Starcraft 2: A look at Banshees

Looking at Starcraft 2 from a distance now that I have not played it seriously for quite a while, there are quite a few units that piqued my interest as to why would the Blizzard design team create them.

Today we'll be looking at possibly one of Terran's better units: The Banshee. I'm just going to go ahead and say that I'm mostly a Terran player (booooo) and I'll try my best to be as unbiased as possible. Before we proceed, there is one fact I have to bring forward:

1) Terran can easily tech to Starport

I would love to observe the Banshee on a tier by tier basis but seeing how Terran can access their tier tree really really fast, comparing by tiers immediately becomes invalid. We know that a two port banshee build can come around the mark when a normal zerg player is barely teching to Lair if done right (unless he's fast teching of course). Thus, we must look at how other races can defend against it at the early stage.

VS Banshees Early Game
We know that Protoss won't really have a problem with banshees considering that most Protoss get Stalkers and Sentries early in the game. If they somehow get forge first instead of gateway to get cannons, it shuts down the entire banshee play if they are well placed (not saying that it's a viable high level strat tho). They will easily overwhelm whatever early harass Banshees can do until they get cloak in which the Protoss player would want to go for their Robo for the Observers while on their way to getting their dreaded Colossus. Hmm, doesn't seem to have anything really problematic there. The banshee will just need to catch the Protoss off guard and that is a problem of dynamics, not mechanics. It's the same thing is Terran with marines being the bulk of their army.

Zerg however, has a bit of a problem. They are a reactive race and they will build units mostly based on what they see or guess. If the Zerg gets faked by a factory reactor into two port and cause them to build roaches in fear of a mech army, it's an early gg there. Zerg's tier 1's only defense against air attacks are the rather immobile Queen and considering Banshee's dps, the limited Queen count and the fact that they are usually not together, it's easy to see how two banshees can easily overwhelm a base protected by one solitary queen. Luckily, banshees take a long time to build and are slow to travel so this somehow indirectly 'balances' the issue interestingly. Also one banshee isn't as bad as two. A standard 1/1/1 banshee opener wouldn't scare the Zerg. The 2 port banshee will. Also, I doubt any zerg will build a Evolution Chamber into Spore Colony that early in the game. If they do that early in the game, they are slowing their expansion which they sorely need.

Then we consider the Cloaking Field upgrade. It's really really expensive and getting that upgrade mostly means you aren't getting the second banshee. Again, Zerg has a problem and this time it's their detector options. I'm honestly still not used to seeing Overlords as non-detector units like their SC1 counterparts. I'm not sure how would a Zerg would react to that. Getting Spore Colony means it forces them to build Evolution Chamber instead of rightfully saving minerals for another expansion or tech. And sacrificing even one drone will drop their economy in the long run.

Interestingly though, this MIGHT be balanced out by the fact that one banshee can't really kill anything fast enough to compensate for the cost of the cloaking field AND the banshee itself. Also they need to use energy to keep their field up, so the harass can't last forever. Then again, it might just kill off a queen. Yikes? Is losing one queen bad (which takes quite some time to die, leading to banshee energy depletion)? 150 minerals, and on a separate spawn timer (does not hatch from egg etc). It MIGHT be the case that the trade is not good at all. If I see invisible missiles I'll probably just go "ARGGG LAY EGGS, USE UP ALL MY MANAS AND RUN!!" and start building another queen. It really seems that having more queens is a solution. It gives you decent air defense, it is on a separate spawn timer which does not hinder your main army production, and it helps in spreading creep and more. If 2 port banshee comes into play, I think having more queens than banshees is a pretty good trade. For one, you are not losing gas. A dead queen (if you have many) is nothing compared to a dead banshee. But hey, if you didn't guess the banshee play, what are your queens going to do then when a 3 racks MM ball comes knocking at your door?

From there, it might be trivial if you are going for the normal expand into lair tech whatever. Get mutas and watch the Terran scream and all. Is it balanced? I'm leaning on the 'no' side. Zerg is a reactionary race. What they don't see they guess. Terran's strength lies in their versatility, so right off the bat, it's bad for zerg theoretically IF the Terran manages to keep the Zerg in the dark. I've seen easy wins when the Terran just do a reactor factory fake into 2 port banshees even at high level play (Idra vs someone i can't remember). Zerg sees and react by getting Roaches. Thinking about it, it doesn't really seem fair. Does it really go into a guessing game?

VS Banshees Mid - late game
Moving on, I'd like to talk about Banshees in mid-late game. Think back to all the replays you've watched. It's strange isn't it? It's a late tech unit, yet it's hardly used in the mid-late game. In fact it's suuuuper rare to see banshees late game unless you are going 1/1/2 into hellion drop into lotsa banshees + MM against Protoss (since Banshees rape everything on the ground). However, recently I have seen Protoss going Stargate builds so it's not gonna be viable now (or in the near future at most). Weird isn't it? I know that Protoss uses everything they have when they advance thier tech tree. Just scan their army every minute. Zealots, Stalkers, Sentries, Observer, Immortals, Colossus, High Templar shiz. For Zerg, they only skip units if they have to, but you do see all of them in some matches at mid-late game. It's not like you don't see hydras, mutas, infestors and broodmother late game. They are all being used! Wow, now I feel like switching to Zerg and Protoss. All of them are being used, how cool is that?

But banshees? Tier 3.5 into the Terran tech and no one uses them after they are built? Seems strange to me. Maybe it's on purpose; I mean, there are lots of Terran units like that. It's not like you will get Thor if you are bent on playing MMM, especially against Protoss. I do agree that they are probably meant to be JUST a harassing unit. The high cost, the damage, the build time and the cloak seems to point that direction. Then again, if they are just harass, what about medivac drops? We all know how damn good medivac drops are, so why go through all the trouble of teching just for banshees? If you are spawning close air, would you go for banshees or just medivac drops?

Banshees usage in overall game plan
From here it seems that the Banshees seems a little overshadowed. They are a cool unit, great for harassing to the point of being part of a really solid build at ONE point, but are they worth the trouble when you know there is a cheaper and much more effective? It feels to me that they are hanging dangerously somewhere between "Use" and "Don't use". In other words, I think that they are too specialized and not doing what they do better and more cost effective than a plain old medivac drop. Also, with medivacs you can leave your starport on reactors.

Ultimately, Banshees main strength right now comes from the fact that they can be obtained very early in the game considering how far down the tech tree it actually is. prinnyd00d mentioned that they are early Dark Templars with flight, which is true to an extent. Too bad the missiles are not invisible :p I think that's the only point that keeps them from being as usefulaas Dark Templars (good harassers and good to mesh into the army). Then again, since Terrans get them early, it's definately gonna be too overpowered. Banshees are dreadfully good enough early game. I'm not saying they should be good too mid-late game, but just look at the design of the unit itself. A late tier unit, used in early game but not used late game. Yet it's all fine and dandy. It's quite intriguing.

Thanks for my good friend prinnyd00d for linking this awesome banshee harass.

And a side note, don't banshees look like Orcas from CNC?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: "Dragon Age: Awakenings", Dragon Age revisited.

Seeing how Dragon Age 2 is already released, I decided to spend whatever little free time I have into replaying Dragon Age: Origins along with all the DLCs and the Awakenings expansion. Then I took a quick glance at this old post and realized I might need to justify my tone then.

(Note that this is going to be mostly a Dragon Age revisited rant/review more than an Awakening review, seeing how the weak points of Origins carry over and Awakening being actually easy. Honestly, there's not much to talk about Awakening other than "wow nice voice acting, nice story, etc". I could talk about the characters you recruit, but what's the point? It's like spoiling the game already for those who haven't played. What I can only tell you is that it's rather good and worth playing through).

I was most probably hoping for a Baldur's Gate 2 replacement, and I might have been unfair to compare both games given both their circumstances. Games nowadays are harder to create. What was simply a hand drawn dungeon is now a 3D mesh complete with shader effects and textures. It's ultimately unrealistic to expect Dragon Age to have as much content as Baldur's Gate 2.

I'm probably more sympathetic now than I was before, but Dragon Age's problems still remain: Mages and Itemization. I used to complain about "Reusing formulas" in the old post, but I must admit that it is a safe formula and there is actually nothing wrong with using it. Also, nowadays it's hard to expect a 'complete' game with 1000 sidequests on release, that's why there are such things known as DLCs and patches. Games are taking a different route now. Whether a consumer should pay for such content is another debate for another time.

For now, I'm just going to add on to the two main points that harmed the game in my opinion. I also complained about the "Difficulty" but it's really mostly due to enemy mages more than my lack of 'skill'.

Now that Starcraft 2 is out, I can bring up the templar analogy. For those who have played Starcraft 2, you know how Feedback works? Yes, I'm talking about Mana Clash. It trivializes the game for my current run (my main is a mage) as much as it trivializes the opponent killing my mage-less party the last run I did long ago.

Although in Awakenings mages do not shine as much (due to warriors and rogues getting armor and talents so ridiculous that healing, buffing and crowd controlling hardly matters), playing through Origins without a mage is still hellish. The question is: are mages too important, or the talents of the other two classes too underwhelming? Mage is THE control class, but compared to them, Fighters and Rogues are really crap. Archers get a decent CC late into one of their trees (Scattershot). Fighters who specializes as Champions get their first AoE knockdown at their 4th talent of their specialization tree. Shield fighters can knockdown at melee and Rogues can stun for awhile (Dirty Fighting) in melee. Bards and champions can buff rather well at their 3rd talent into their respective trees. That's about it really.

Compared to that, what do mages get (not even counting those AoE spells that has friendly fire)? Replaying my main character as a mage doubly reinforces my viewpoint that mages are indeed overpowered in Origins.

1) Mana Clash: Instant kills almost ALL other mages. Period. It crashes my computer a couple of times too.
2) Glyph of Warding: Adds +30 defense to any friendly within the circle. +30 defense btw is essentially a flat (not compound) -30% accuracy on the attacker's hit.
3) Forcefield and Crushing Prison: Immediately takes one guy out of the fight for a pretty long time. Both are 2 active skills from the same tree (if you are getting forcefield, might as well get crushing prison)
4) Glyph of Repulsion: Knocks back all enemies that fails a physical resistance check. This usually saves the lives of your ranged units from swarms of enemies.
5) Glyph of Paralysis: Stuns one creature that enters the circle. I use it on (usually) lone spellcasters when my Mana Clash is on cooldown.

I have not fully explored the mage spells but there are a few more worth mentioning like Paralysis, Mass Paralysis, Miasma, Sleep, Cone of Cold, Glyph of Neutralization but even these are overshadowed by the ones I mentioned above.

And Blood Wound. Oh my god Blood Wound. If there's ONE spell that makes Blood Mages powerful, it's Blood Wound. It's a delicious mini-Crushing Prison on a huge area of effect.

I don't believe I have to mention this again. One huge gripe I had with Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings is the itemization. The old post explains it well enough and hopefully Dragon Age 2 doesn't face the same ruddy problem. Awakenings brings in another kind itemization problem but I'm unsure whether it is intended or not. The equipment you get in Awakenings is really so damn powerful that even Nightmare mode seems like a joke.

So yeah, after replaying it, even with the DLCs, it still has the same problems. However, the DLCs are excellent. Witch Hunt, Golems, Warden's Keep, Return to Ostagar, Leliana's Song, etc are actually better than I expected. If you actually felt underwhelmed by the effects of choosing the Dalish Elf Origins (which is actually almost non-whatsoever), you might like Witch Hunt a bit although the ending is...'open to thought'. I liked how Return to Ostagar shed some light as to why Loghain betrayed Cailan.

And after replaying it, the story of Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings, as 'save the world' as it might be, is actually pretty darn good. Setting and atmosphere is fantastic. Cutscenes and voice acting is beautiful.

John just told me that DA2 was a disappointment so far. I hope that is not the case =/

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Baldur's Gate 2: Good Party Guide v.1.0

DISCLAIMER: This guide only considers Shadows of Amn characters. It doesn't take into account Throne of Baal expansion. Also, there are a couple of Neutral characters in this party, so it's not a 'pure' good party.

Ah, the good party. We all know how overpowered the evil NPCs are in this game. Despite their limited numbers, almost all of them are pure classes, so they fit straight into an 'ideal' party composition. Let's look a quick glance at them:

Edwin: Everyone loves Edwin to death. Not only is he the only pure mage class in the game(not counting his Conjurer specialization), he also has a necklace at grants him additional spells per day, effectively making even any of your custom-made mage characters jealous. He also comes with a memorable personality and a hilarious quest line.

Korgan: Korgan is THE Fighter. Even better, he's a Berserker, giving him the Enrage ability which, at the cost of being 'winded' after the Enrage ends, give him +2 Attack, +2 Damage, -2AC (it's 2nd Edition, so it's good), +15 HP, and immunity to all sorts of crap. Too bad he's strength is 18/77. Otherwise he'll be easily the strongest melee character in the game.

Viconia: Viconia is the only pure cleric in the game, which basically means she have the fastest access to clerical spells as well as being the few healer/support character in the game that can wear some armor. Too bad she's evil =(

Seeing how specialized the evil party is, we now look at our choices for the good/neutral party here. After some experimenting, I came up with some conclusion that is restricted only within my build; BG2 is an open game, and I don't really think any character is truly 'bad', but this build is what I consider an 'ideal' good party that can cover most grounds.

Go here goes:
Keldorn: Keldorn is the first obvious choice as the party 'tank'. Inquisitor is sickeningly overpowered as a class, because in exchange of close-to-useless spells, Cure Disease and Lay on Hands, he gets immunity to Hold and Charm, True Sight and Dispel Magic for almost free. See a Mirror Image? True Sight. Someone disappeared? True Sight. Everything else? Dispel Magic. Just sick.

Also you'll want to get him Carsomyr, the +5 Holy Avenger. Keldorn is the only NPC that can wield it and it gives him 50% resistance to magic, dispel magic on hit, and some other minor stuff. For an optimal good party, Keldorn is almost a no-brainer. Remember to ALWAYS give him the DEX gloves to boost his AC.

Mazzy: Mazzy is strangely good. Maybe because she can cast free haste as a special ability! If that's not good enough, Mazzy is the other pure fighter in this game, aside from Korgan. Unfortunately, her strength is seriously lacking (15), but items can still make up for it. Also she specializes (aka spent points on) in shortbows and shortswords, so the first thing I thought of was to have her carry all the shields in the game (since Keldorn isn't going to use them). Her specializing in bow allows her to be useful in ranged combat when her AC isn't needed.

Did I mention she has free haste?

Jan: Neutral Illusionist/Rogue character. Jan is really really good as a support character. He comes with his 'rogue' gear, which grants insane bonuses to his rogue skills. Unfortunately as an illusionist, he isn't very offensive unlike Edwin.

Jan also has a custom made crossbow which can shoot custom made ammos, which actually stun enemies!

Minsc: Remember me saying about how Korgan isn't the strongest melee character? Minsc is the reason. At 18/93, he has a slight edge over all the melee characters in the game. He also has a berserk ability much like Korgan! So why is Korgan/Mazzy better in anyway? Well, Minsc is ulimately a pure Ranger. That means, he cannot have any Grand Master Specialization. Then again, it's not a big loss. Furthermore, he gets priest spells eventually to help out.

Aerie: Alot of people are going to whine about this. Aerie is honestly not very good. In fact the only thing going for her is her cute voice. Otherwise, she's a decent mage/cleric, meaning divine spells and clerical spells are mostly open to her. She levels very slowly however, and she cannot wear armor (due to her mage multiclass). She fares pretty well, though, given her wide versatility, and the possible fact that she's the best NPC healer. I think she dies too fast though.

Also, the 16 INT and 16 WIS really stops her from being incredibly powerful.

Nalia: I don't like her since she's pretty crappy as a thief and doesn't have the 18 INT to replace Edwin anytime soon. Still, she's your best mage if you want a pure good party, and pure good parties selection have too many choices in the melee department. I didn't really use her much so I'm not sure about her thief capabilities.

Valygar: Valygar is pretty decent, yet not so decent. If you like to backstab, you might as well make your main character an assassin. However, he is probably the best backstabber NPC in the game given the fact that he is a Ranger which means that he has a better attack modifier (thac0). If you can't fit a backstabber into your team, you are better off using other NPCs.

Haer'Dalis: Haer is a Blade, which is one of the better bard kits out there. If you really want a bard in your party without making use of your main character, Haer is the only choice you get. Considering that Blades can solo the game (I tried it to a certain extent), Haer can be really powerful if you play him well. However, there isn't really anything unique about him otherwise.

Jaheira: Very solid Neutral NPC. She's a jack-of-all-trades and more. Although she's a Fighter/Druid, she can eventually cast her version of Raise Dead and also take the Critical Strike feat from the Fighter class. That combined with harm can occasionally cause devastating effects. You'll have to live with her bitching though. =/

So without further ado, here's what I think is the ideal pure good party:
You - preferably a spellcaster or thief
Keldorn - tank/debuffer
Mazzy - tank/archer/buffer (free Courage and Haste!)
Minsc - Damage
Aerie - Healing/Support
Nalia - Mage with thief support. Replace with Imoen once you get her back in the story.

Comments: This party seems rather shaky. It is heavy on melee, and very lacking in thief skills as well as magic (both arcane and divine). Damage doesn't come freely with this party too. Keldorn and Mazzy isn't really damage material in the first place so your character would preferably be a damage dealer. You COULD replace Mazzy with Valygar, but that would require you to micro him and abuse his backstab ability (run away, hide, return, poke). I've played an Assassin main character before, so I know how incredibly troublesome it can be.

If we allow neutral characters in the mix:
You - Up to you.
Minsc or Mazzy - Damage or tank/archer/buffer
Keldorn - Tank/debuffer
Jan - Amazing control and thief skills + spells
Jaheira - Great solid character overall. Buffer/Damage/A bit of tank
Nalia/Aerie - For arcane magic. Aerie is better imo since she sacrifices level 7 spells for 6 levels of cleric spells, which this party could really use.

Comments: The reason for the choice between Minsc or Mazzy is that since there are better choices for the back row, we don't really need to clutter the front row like we did with the pure good party (which you don't really have much of a choice). Jan takes very good care of traps and thief-related stuff. Jaheira grants you access to druid spells and can also backup as a Fighter. It's almost all you need

In closure, hopefully this guide will become more in-depth and ultimately cover all characters in future iterations. Feel free to post comments :)