sâmbătă, 24 septembrie 2016

How to ruin games with hype

Gaming should be a fun pastime, a relaxing form of entertainment we can immerse ourselves in, alone or with friends, turning a bunch of codes and textures into a beautiful experience. It's a separate art from film, it has a limitless potential for development and creativity, for a much more immersive experience, with an active engagement from the player. The educational and even therapeutic value of games have already been proven, yet still this medium is far from being explored at its full potential, a potential anyone can be able to understand right now, for the worst thing is held back by is the technological limitation. However, that's not gaming's worst enemy, but greed is.
What does hype have to do with greed? Greed comes in many shapes, but hype has the unfortunate ability to attract all sorts of greedy.

The greed of a gamer
You see something new, or something you think it's new, because you don't really understand the programming behind a game (although, let's be honest, you pretend to), and you love it. Oh, you do. So much so that you film yourself crying while watching the reveal trailer and post it on the internet so everyone can see what a sensible and gullible dork you are. You have barely seen a trailer or a small gameplay teaser, obviously scripted to all hell. But you don't care, you'll beg for more, and when wiser people will tell you that there isn't more and that you shouldn't be so optimistic about something you barely have any idea about, you base your "facts" on what the developer said in that brief presentation. Two years later, the devs finally come out of their lairs again to show what they've worked for so long on and how the game progressed. It's... the same thing, but old somehow. What happened? Oh, yeah, it's still in development, we shouldn't comment about the obvious things we see, no one is allowed to make assumptions that this game may probably not be as good as it's advertised, and maybe all of this is a beautiful lie. Months later, a release date is suddenly made public. The beta is awful, the bugs are just beyond repair, but it's still in development, you hold on to your optimism. The game is rushed simply because it's getting old and some of us are losing interest, better things are have come and gone. The game is a buggy mess, everyone is shouting how awful it is, how the developer lied, and they're rightfully asking for refunds. But not you. No, you still think the game is good. With a sad grin on your face, instead of playing the damn thing, you take on every comment and review that has negative things to say about this game, no matter how much sense they make. And you will continue to defend this disappointment until a new, or something you think it's new, appears on the horizon. The history repeats itself, but...

The greed of a developer
You start by advertising an innovating video game experience, either be it virtual reality or a huge, Universe-sized sandbox, it needs to be fresh and appealing, something to get people excited. You need to get everyone's attention with interesting features you've only barely planned, but have just a vague idea of how you want to implement them. If you don't have it in the game, just make a scripted event, but it has to illustrate exactly what you're trying to do, even if it's very hard to be done with the engine in real time. Don't worry, you'll take the time and figure it out. Or do you? You already gained the attention of a big publisher and that one wants a piece of the cake, they'll at least pay for the marketing. Slowly, the publisher will push a release date, because you can't profit off of their generosity forever. Besides, you may have promised too much for too long, and it's kinda getting old. Let's face it, you've got nothing new to show for and you more than likely shouldn't have made your game announced as soon as you did. You have no choice now but to hurry development and yet you clearly have no time to create everything you promised, no matter how many times you delay it. Meanwhile, people are starting to get suspicious or to lose interest. Finally, all you can do is release a buggy mess of a product and hope for the best. Reviews are flooding with negativity. Most of the customers are complaining. No damage control helps, and the publisher calls you out on your bullcrap. You'll work a lot of precious time to fix a game you're not gonna profit too much from, your integrity as a developer is hurt, your reputation so tarnished you may go bankrupt or no matter what you create, no matter how good, you'll never be able to sell anything ever again. you could take the risk, but...

There's a lesson to learn, I can only hope you learn it.

Why The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt is favorite game material & Blood and Wine unboxing

I'm ashamed to say that I haven't spent too much time on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and that I still have the nerve to consider it my favorite game of all time. How does that work? It's a simple case of overwhelming amazement. It's the sensation I had when I first played my first video games on a knock-off of an Atari 2600, when I had no clue how video games are made, how they work behind the pretty colors. It's that feeling of awe when I first played a PC video game, which was Commander Keen, and I felt like I was an explorer in a funny alien world that's surprisingly difficult to traverse. It's like when I played Quake 2 and analyzed every corner, every textured detail, gazing at the space texture above the open levels whenever shooting stopped. It's the sense of exploration and excitement at the thought of what I might find at every next corner in Fallout 3, and I'm stopping here, because Fallout 3 may have been the last game I've enjoyed so much that it might have spoiled me. It might've been the fact that one of my most cherished games (FO3) started slowly to age, and it did not age well, that's an objective fact. Today, I have enough experience to know what polygons and textures are, to see what goes behind every invisible wall, why my character can't jump over a small cardboard box, or can't jump at all, even the limitations of randomized galaxy-huge levels like in No Man's Sky, because they're algorithms of preset data that usually shouldn't extend as far as a real world city, less so an entire Galaxy. There's nothing surprising or astounding about a mathematically developed video game, including the math of marketing. But when a game is lovingly handcrafted by passionate people who want to see their vision come to life as faithfully as possible, then that can lead to a spectacular experience. Your chance of finding humor in a Rogue-like game is most likely through the failings of the system, when the algorithm just fails and the bugs start infesting. There are so many iteration of woods in which you're being chased by murderous robots until you realize it's basically all the same, except trees are shuffled around a bit. You're very unlikely to find Easter-eggs in randomly-generated games. But the entire Witcher video game series is about cleverly crafted events and dialogues you have to progress through. Fun characters, immersive worlds, well thought battle system and an amazing lore. While games like No Man's Sky offer a sandbox the size of a Galaxy and quickly realize it's just that, a box of sand you have to dig deep in to not get bored, games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt offer a land filled with history and life, a small part of a world in which stuff happens even as you play an exciting game of Gwent (or dice poker, if that's what you fancy), and happens even more as you actively interact with it, one way or another. And I do like game that offer both a challenge and choices for progression.
I admit that I tried not to spoil myself before I get all the DLC and expansions for The Witcher 3, and I also tried to get both expansion pack as physical copies. Hearts of Stones was the first one and there's plenty of that on shelves, but Blood and Wine has been released a bit pricey and I thought I'd wait for a while until the price drops. Unfortunately, stocks were limited and I quickly found no physical copy of Blood and Wine almost nowhere, so when I saw a stray one somewhere in a store that supposedly had ran out of stock for it, I just had to fork out the full price. Yes, it costs as much as a full, triple A, new game. But it's worth it, because now I own the entire Gwent card set with beautiful boxes. All I need now is a big Gwent board, I don't know how to make that right now, and certainly someone to play with... Until then, I have to stop getting giddy at every little thing I find amazing in this game and start the wonderful adventure, as white wolf himself, Geralt of Rivia.

luni, 29 august 2016

Deus Ex Mankind Divided Impressions - Cyberpunk Relapse

Lately, I've been trying to find some joy in playing some game, any game, mostly because I've been a tiny bit disappointed in one certain title and felt really betrayed by some developers and publishers, and yes, I'm counting Square Enix among them. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by Deus Ex Mankind Divided. I've had a few doubts and paranoia did made me question Eidos and Nixxes, the devs, and their showing-off with the gameplay trailers and overall confidence in their game. They went so far as to renounce the embargo on reviews earlier before release, and that's something you don't see much from triple A titles these days. That got me questioning: what's the catch? Well, let's just start with the good parts of the game.

 The good
I'll be honest, I haven't finished the game, and I'm only halfway or so, maybe deeper, but I'm aware of what this game is all about. What I mean by that is that it's a great follow-up to Deus Ex Human Revolution in every sense, and I mean it. If there was one thing you loved about Human Revolution, aside from the setting, of course, then it's all here, and better. Okay, to be more specific, the gameplay is amazingly familiar. The shooting, the hacking, the stealthiness, the climbing through vents, they're all back and they've been improved so much more.
There are new, more types of weapons, there's crafting, there are new and amazing augs that are actually referenced in the story, the hacking has been slightly improved with a couple of new viruses to use, and I don't even know where to start with the numerous paths and ways you can take to reach an objective. If you're and explorer like me, you're going to be so upset for using a good multi tool to unlock a door when you could've just used the air shaft hidden behind a trash bin or in plain sight. There are so many paths, it's almost overwhelming. It's also encouraged by the immense size of the levels and the only city hub of the game, set in the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague (or Praha, as they call it in the game), a country where the titular divided mankind is in a constant tug of war between the militarized police who abuse their force on the augmented and ARC, a faction of augmented rebels who make their voiced heard through terrorist acts. Beyond these, there's the Interpol trying to catch ARC's leaders and a hacker nicknamed Janus, head of a shadow group called Juggernaut Collective, opponents of the Illuminati. And, of course, in the middle of it all, Adam Jensen is caught again. I cannot get enough of his passive-aggressive ways of dealing with trouble, and Elias Toufexis does again a great job of portraying this awesome character with his memorable hoarse voice.

The sound is fantastic, Michael McCan's music enriches the highly atmospheric tone of the game. And lastly, it look fantastic. The graphics are breathtaking and the environments are incredibly rich in detail. I have noticed the same voice-lip sync and odd character animation from Human Revolution, and it's even weirder seeing these on these amazing graphics, but these are trivial things I'm not going to bother going further into complaining about when they've improved upon the formula in so many ways. You know, it's like when you play a game, you love it, but think that some things should be done better or a bit differently. Yeah, that's what Mankind Divided is in contrast to Human Revolution. Eidos already proved they are a listening dev, and I'm pretty sure they will start listening further down the line.

The bad
Well, my biggest complain is that it's a formula and the devs have played it too safe. It's definitely not the Far Cry 4 of Far Cry 3, but it's not Far Cry Primal either. Which can be a good thing? Maybe? I loved Human Revolution so very much and I really asked for more of that, so can I really complain? It's not a simple DLC, let me tell you, although I can already see the DLC content they'll be releasing. One will surely be a prequel DLC about Adam Jensen's adventures in Antarctica, because they've spent so much time talking about that part, I somehow can't imagine it not being showed one way or another.
My biggest disappointment, however, is that one and only city hub. It is big, it's split into two different sections bounded by a subway ride/loading screen, and the loading screens aren't short, let me tell you. To me that's a little complain, because I've installed the game on an SSD, a good one too, but I have heard some people talking about minutes of waiting for the game to load. Back at the city hub, it's full of life, miserable life oddly mixed with arrogant pricks life, but abundant nonetheless. There's rich architecture everywhere and it's filled with personality, while the background looks so fantastic I'd like to go there. But even as it stands, it's somehow not Hengsha. I would've loved for them to actually make what they where originally planned for Hengsha in Human Revolution, a huge thriving city above the one we've played in. Instead, Eidos focused more on detail, lots and lots of detail, I'll give it to them, while the settings of the away missions are almost city hubs in scale and chock-full of variety and verticality. Still doesn't quench the thirst for more, if you know what I mean.
The main story is interesting, there are a lot of factions, there's stuff happening and it's a logical follow-up to Human Revolution's event's. But I somehow feel distracted by side-missions, which are more fun than the main plot. Seriously, there was a main branching mission where I finished it with swift stealth around the level and a quick CASIE conversation, while a side quest where I had to solve a murder was more challenging and involving then I'd expected, and that surprised me in a very good way. It actually reminded me of another game I really loved and I had the same disposition: The Witcher 2. Amazing side missions, lame storyline. I somehow couldn't feel as immersed to what is happening as I've felt in Human Revolution, where Adam Jensen had a personal grudge with everyone, and there were so many characters! So big, yet the more I think of it, the more it starts breaking apart. There still are many characters, but their parts are so small in the bigger picture, while Adam Jensen feels like a Mad Max in the whole story, he's our vessel through a stormy sea which we have to navigate with only the complain for getting wet.
And if I have to, I have to. I'll say something about the microtransactions. I think it's crappy business practices I do no support, more so in a single-player full-priced game. That being said, I didn't felt bothered by it. The store is somewhere in the main menu, easy to miss, and the game doesn't ever mention anything about it. Also, the core gameplay is definitely not built around microtransactions. Sure, being able to buy bundles of Praxis that change the way you play the game and make you really OP in a game that encourages stealth and challenge is a lot like cheating, but then it's not something you can't just ignore by clicking Play and let other do what they want. The only downside to this is that it may encourage the publisher to push them further if it turns out to be successful. So all I can say is, please don't let it become successful! Just respect Deus Ex and play the game as it's supposed to be played.

marți, 9 august 2016

Star Trek Beyond goes where Abrams never dared

I won't pretend I'm the biggest Star Trek fan or even care so much for the franchise. I damn enjoyed The Next Generation, hell, I grew up watching that show, while most avid trekkies will scoff at it. But seriously, let's not be snobs. Sure, TNG brought Star Trek into the world of heavy computer generated special effects, and started under the helm of the same Gene Roddenberry. It was a logical transition. After Roddenberry passed away, everyone who enjoyed the TV shows thus far were sad to witness each episode getting worse in front of their eyes. My generation, or younger, we didn't. We just enjoyed them for what they were, being too young to realize the real meaning behind what the original series were supposed to reflect, what Gene Roddenberry envisioned. Still, every show and spin-off, from TNG to Deep Space Nine, from Voyager to the critically panned Enterprise, they were all about dicovery, multicultural diversity, diplomacy and exploration, actual Science Fiction stuff. Many will say that Star Trek begun to plunge with the release of the Star Trek Generations movie, which brought the casts of both the original series and TNG together. Personally, as a mere spectator, I enormously enjoyed that movie as a kid, and even as I grew older, mostly maybe because of nostalgia. I don't know what went wrong, but longtime fans didn't (and apparently they still don't) approve of the violence and the energic and loud battle scenes, pretending that Roddenberry never intended for the series to be an action-packed fest, but rather a gathering of peaceful tranquility. Really, when Kirk fought a guy dressed in that hilarious lizzard costume it was because they wanted to look ridiculous, not because they lacked budget, right?
I think I'm stranding too far from the title of this article. I'm supposed to talk about Star Trek Beyond. I've been slacking on writing about this movie since it first la
nded in theaters.
To make it short, I loved it, more than I loved either previous movies in this series, but not more than the first one, The Motion Picture. TMP was revolutionary for its time, as was Alien or Blade Runner, and these are movies that will remain relevant a long time from now. I can't really say the same about Star Trek Beyond. So far, this series relied too much on references to the original series and related pop culture memes, yet it's a surprise that the 2009 Star Trek reboot was the most original of the bunch, with Eric Bana giving the performance of his career, in my opinion. As for a plot, Nero wanted to destroy all Federation planets with a mining ship in a revenge spree across dimensions, Khan also seeked revenge, and... guess what? Krall, the villain of Beyond, also wants revenge on the Federation for being left for dead. It's not even funny anymore. But you know what is funny? The dialogue, the script in general, but I couldn't have expected anything less since it was written by the nerd Simon Pegg himself. As for the whole gay Sulu debacle, it was all really stupid, the movie handled it beatifully and actually in a meaningful way.
I liked that they went for the destroyed Enterprise and grounded crew, same as in The Search For Spock, directed by Nimoy himself, although they went for an original storyline... or, well, as original as they could. I also liked they way they paid a final tribute to Leonard Nimoy with a proper and emotional send-off. And I have to mention that I loved the portrayal of the characters this time around, and the relationship between them. While Abrams had two movies to set up the crew of the Enterprise, Justin Lin (known for the most of Fast & Furious movies) took the helm and made a more grounded, more visceral and practical action movie, but also had every character do something, not only Kirk, Spock and Uhura. This was a movie that involved the entire crew and it was amazingly well constructed. Because the movie took place on the surface of a planet, they had a lot of fun with actual stunts and sets, and that was a breath of fresh air in these CGI-heavy movies.
What more can I say? Idris Elba's portrayal as the Krall was okay, but nothing noteworthy, but on the opposite, the character of Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella) had a great presence. It's a movie filled with awesome moments both of suspense and emotion, with references gallore, and personality. I really enjoyed it and I think it's a great addition to the series. I expect in the future more original scripts with new and awesome stories that'll blow our minds, so they can escape the anchor to the old series.
Thank you, Anton Yelchin!

vineri, 22 iulie 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) is actually good!?

I had the awesome pleasure to be invited at the new Ghostbusters movie preview with my friends from Blogal Initiative Craiova. We had a great time at this new, hip theater called Inspire Cinema, in the city of Craiova, Romania, and if you ever find your way over here you just need to give it a chance. It's really inviting, best setting for a theater up on the 4th floor of the Mercur Shopping Center right in the downtown, can't miss it. Best part is, even if there's no movie you're interested in, the view up there is worth the visit.
As for the Ghostbusters reboot, I was surprisingly entertained during the entire viewing. But, since I'm not the best art critic, I'm not going to pretend that this is a review. Therefore I am going the less classy way and will compare it to the original 1984 movie, which just happens to be one of my favorite movies, alongside The Thing... and will also mention the internet outrage around the trailers and Paul Feig's comments.
Ghostbusters is an overall fun summer flick starring Kristen Wiig as the down to earth relatable character, Kate McKinnon, who just did her best to be the zaniest on the screen, Leslie Jones, who wasn't the stereotype they made her out to be in the trailers, and Melissa McCarthy, who played herself. Also, maybe the funniest presence was, in my opinion, Chris Hemsworth as Kevin the receptionist, an eccentrically dumb hunk who's just a refresher every time he's around. So, except for one typecasting, every actor portrayed characters filled with diverse personalities and, most importantly, quirks. There weren't any down-to-earth, Kristen Wiig-type character males, except Ernie Hudson's brief but funny appearance, and the villain was the cliche whitest white guy with a weird frustration upon all humanity as his sole motivation, but there was also a purposefully unlikable woman character, the secretary to that stereotypical always-in-denial mayor played wonderfully by Andy Garcia. What I'm trying to say is that the movie is not trying to be sexist in any way, at least not intentionally. So now that I've got this out of the way, let's talk about it in relation to the 1984 Ghostbusters with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and the late Harold Ramis, who all, except Ramis, had very small parts in this movie, more as their validation, their approval towards this production. They weren't distractions, they were winks to us who know their work well, and it was a good touch. I liked that and they were incredibly funny, most notably Aykroyd.
But how do the movies stack? Well, the 2016 Ghostbusters features a good cast of characters who can hold their own without drawing from the original like many other remakes, reboots and nostalgia-driven sequels do. Except for those little winks from the original cast, the movie tried its best to be as original as it could... at least it tried. It was kinda the same story, to be honest. Some smart working class citizens of New York decide to open a ghost busting venture after encountering a floating ghost woman in an old building, villain ghost possesses some schmuck and opens a portal that brings all sorts of crazy ghostly creatures to the land of the living, and it's up to our unlikely heroes to stop the madness while also fighting a huge white version of a logo; and it's their logo this time... But while the original Ghostbusters had a cast of simple, real people who were way over their heads in the whole ordeal, we feared for their well-being and rooted for them to succeed. Melissa McCarthy does cartwheels! Well, almost, but they dual wield proton handguns, throw proton grenades, and basically kill ghosts. They KILL GHOSTS! Think about that. They catch one ghost, and then they awkwardly improv-dance over rap music. You know, the original movie was a product of its time, like the quintessential ghost-catching montage, and so is this one. I get that. The jokes however were hit and miss. At least for me. I chuckled a few times, I had a smile on the whole time, and it even got me twice with a couple of jump-scares. But it started poorly with puerile poop and fart jokes, then transitioned into awkward commentaries, the kind where you can assume that the screenwriter wrote the entire script in dialogue, in which the characters have to banter and describe what is happening, basically explaining the joke, ruining it... Stop that! The original was witty, sarcastic and smartly satirical. Melissa McCarthy complains over soup four times.
The action is intense, it's loud and colorful, and so are the visual effects. While the first movie used mostly compositional and practical effects, this re-imagining, because that's what I see it as, uses mostly CGI (computer-generated imagery) creatures and effects, while also some compositions mixed with CGI, I think, like the first ghost woman. The first movie had also a darker tone, because the ratings were a lot more flexible, but now the movies tend to lessen the violence in search for a wider audience. That's good too, it brings more people, youngsters and nostalgics, to the theater and enjoy the Nickelodeon-style graphics for what they are, colorful but still effective. And if you're watching the 3D release, you're in for some fun. It's one of the few movies in which the 3D is noticeable, but just enough not to get distracting.
The movie holds amazingly well on its own. If you're a grumpy nostalgic, don't worry, it won't ruin your childhood, the original Ghostbusters will never be erased. Besides, the creators and actors of the new Ghostbusters were very artistically respectful to the roots. I don't see it becoming a classic, because its premise is not as original as it was 32 years ago, but it is highly enjoyable, it's funny, it's explosive and, despite some odd editing choices, like distracting fast cutting, it's a consistent adventure through a vapors-infested New York.
So, well, that wasn't terrible. No, it wasn't terrible at all.

Ghostbusters (2016) will have a wide release in most theaters and Cinema 3D Craiova on July 29. I, personally, enjoyed the movie and I hope you'll do too. If my viewing experience can be summed up in three words, those are colorful in regards to the visuals, laughter in regards to the atmosphere and crowd, and a general sense of surprise.