Category: Gaming

Crushed Candy

Candy_CrushI am done with Candy Crush Saga.

Now that I have that first sentence out of the way and guaranteed to show up on the Facebook post for people that don’t click through to my blog, I can explain what has brought me to that sentence.  What has me abandoning a game that I played the heck out of for the better part of three months?

First of all, for the most part it is a great game.  The developer has done some truly unique things with the Match-3 formula that has been around for years.  I continue to see a new concept and think, “Wow… that is brilliant.”  But it is how they embrace microtransactions, a relatively new concept in gaming, that truly bothers me.

Like many other free Facebook or mobile-based games, you can only play so much at a time.  In Candy Crush Saga, when you fail 5 times, you are done.  Each of your “lives” will regenerate 30 minutes after it was lost.  Or, a Facebook friend can send you another one (seemingly randomly).  Or, and this is why the game is free, you can purchase additional lives.

I have pretty strong willpower when it comes to these free games.  I don’t fall into the microtransaction trap and end up buying additional lives or power-ups.  I may get upset when my life gauge hits zero, but I never have the urge to spend money to play some more.  I can take a break and come back later to a fresh pile of lives, no problem.

However, the breaking point for me in Candy Crush Saga is in the randomness.  The initial placement of your candies on the board is completely random, as is the addition of candies to the board when you clear some out.  As such, it is entirely possible that you will get a game board that is impossible to beat.  On some of the levels past 100, this will happen quite often.  Several times I have lost 3 of my 5 lives to impossible candy arrangements.

Normally, I would not have a problem with this.  I understand randomness.  I’ve played other games that have random elements that can lead to unsolvable puzzles.  As a life-long gamer, I’m cool with this.  What I’m not cool with is a game repeatedly throwing impossible scenarios at me and then asking for real money to try again.  This model is clearly working for them, but it crosses a line and doesn’t work for me.  However, the line here is a fuzzy one.  If the pop-up said I could pay $10 and unlock unlimited lives, basically buying the game in full, I would likely do it in a heartbeat.  I truly enjoy playing the game.  But, it’s the “Pay $1, Get 1 More Try” model combined with the possibility of randomly getting a board that is literally impossible to beat that breaks it for me.  I can’t support that, even if I’m playing for free and not actually supporting them.

This Is How You Do It

Naughty_Dog_logoNaughty Dog is a developer that makes games exclusively for the PlayStation line of gaming systems.  What is kind of interesting is that Naughty Dog has made some incredible games that appear to contain a message to other developers in them.  That message is, “This is how you do it.”

A few years ago, Naughty Dog released “Uncharted”, which told the developers of “Tomb Raider”, “This is how you do it.”  “Uncharted” is what “Tomb Raider” should have been like on today’s systems.  It looked stunning with great gameplay, a solid story, and incredible voice acting.  I’ve played all the major “Tomb Raider” releases and while I’ve enjoyed them, there was a lot of nostalgia there that probably helped increase my enjoyment of them.  They weren’t entirely what they used to be when they were setting trends on the original PlayStation.

Naughty Dog has done it again with “The Last of Us”, this time telling the “Resident Evil” directors, “This is how you do it.”  “The Last of Us” is a classic survivor horror game, which the most recent “Resident Evil” games have strayed a bit from.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy what the “Resident Evil” games are right now, but at the same time, I will admit that they aren’t the same as they used to be.

“The Last of Us” goes back to that original “Resident Evil” formula, but with modern graphics and incredible voice acting.  There’s a very limited amount of ammo.  Melee weapons can only hit things a few times before they break and are useless.  Health items are scarce.  Running to safety is almost always an acceptable alternative to sticking around and taking care of all of the threats.  The game is intense and has me gripping the controller tightly and clenching most of the muscles in my body.  I can only play it for about 90 minutes before I need to take a break and walk away.  Just like I did with the classic “Resident Evil” games.

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I Wish Bioshock Infinite Was Infinite

BSI-cover_close-upNo spoilers ahead, I promise.

Last Friday night, I finished playing “BioShock Infinite”.  I enjoyed the game throughout my time with it, but the last 2 hours seriously hooked me.  I really began to connect with Booker and Elizabeth, the two main characters, and the ending strengthened those feelings almost infinitely (*wink, wink*).  I can’t get their story out of my head and I want to play more with these characters, but I don’t want to just run through the same game again.  I want new stories with the two of them.

I know that “BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea: Episode 1” is out and it’s a new adventure with these two characters set in the same location as the original “BioShock”.  As excited as I am to play this, the cost is keeping me away.  Episode 1 is $15 and Episode 2, coming very soon, is an additional $15.  $30 is a lot of money to pay for DLC, especially when Episode 1 is only about 2 hours long.

There are reports that Episode 2 is going to be significantly longer than Episode 1, clocking in at a rumored 6 hours.  Now we’re getting a little bit better.  $30 for a combined 8 hours of gameplay is not too shabby.  That is an acceptable amount of time for most full-sized first-person shooters, and $30 is a good deal for a full-sized game.  Especially when I got the full game for free thanks to the amazing PlayStation Plus service.

I will not grab Episodes 1 and 2 immediately when 2 comes out, but will watch for a sale.  But if it isn’t trending towards a sale, there will come a point when I will not be able to wait any longer and I’ll spend the $30 to get 8 more hours with these incredible characters.

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Life is Like a Video Game

 

 

In my opinion, Chris Collins nailed it.

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I Love You, Sweatshirt

It has been crazy cold here the last few days.  It was below zero for days and days and days.  About the only advantage to this that I found is that it meant that I could wear sweatshirts for days and days and days.  I absolutely love sweatshirts.  As I looked in my closet to pick one out every day, I thought to myself, “I need some more sweatshirts”.  I didn’t say that out loud, though, because I’m pretty sure my wife disagrees.

I continued to ponder the thought, and as there’s not much to that thought, my mind wandered to what sweatshirts I’d want to get if I were to get some more.  I went online and started hunting for them, and suprisingly had a lot of trouble finding anything that I wanted.

I want a Firefly sweatshirt, but the only ones I like I already have in T-shirt form.  I’m not going to double up on those.
I want a PlayStation or PlayStation 4 sweatshirt and I can’t find anything official at all.
I want a Pearl Jam sweatshirt for the new album, because I love the artwork, but I don’t like how they utilized it on the apparel.
I want 4 or 5 more Milwaukee Brewers sweatshirts, but I already have two in fine condition, so that’s going a little overboard.
I want an Assassin’s Creed sweatshirt, but I do not like the designs of any of them one bit.

And finally, I want a sweatshirt with some witty saying on it, but I already have my mouth taking care of that all day long, so the sweatshirt would just be redundant.

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I Went On a “Journey”

journey

After nearly 2 years of hearing about how wonderful it is and seeing the numerous Game of the Year awards that it won, I finally fired up “Journey”, a PS3-exclusive game.  For those not in the know, it’s a very different kind of game.  There’s no shooting or attacking, because there’s no enemies.  There’s no text or dialog.  You’re given no instruction on what you are supposed to do.  Even when the game needs to tell you what to do, it shows you a picture of a controller and very subtlety highlights the button you should press.  Blink, and you miss it.

You play alone, except when you are randomly hooked up with someone else online.  You don’t know who they are and you can’t communicate with them, yet you can find a way to work together.  When you finish, you see a list of profile IDs so you only then know who you bumped into.  The game is only 90 minutes long, so it is assumed you’ll finish it in one sitting and see all the IDS of those you played with.  You can’t choose who you play with, so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever play with your best friend.  You are expected to come back from time to time to give it another whirl, just for the experience.

It really is an interesting way to play a game.  You only use three inputs on your controller.  You move with the left stick, you jump with X and you do actions (charge up, mostly) with O.  And that’s it.  It’s very minimalist.  It’s very quiet.  It’s very beautiful.

It’s very not my thing.

I don’t need to shooting and explosions and constant action.  I love a puzzle game.  But “Journey” is barely a puzzle game.  For most of the levels, there’s only one way you can possibly go.  You can explore around and try to find shiny little cube things, but when it’s time to go on, there’s almost always only one way to go.  There’s long sequences when I was just holding up on my directional stick and moving forward for what felt like minutes on end, even if it was only about 20 or 30 seconds.  I like the idea of not being given any direction and having to figure it out completely on my own, but at times, it was so easy, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Can this possible be right?  What am I doing?   I’m just walking to the… oh, that’s the end of the level.”  It wasn’t challenging at all, despite the complete lack of direction.

The random hookup with a helping player was a great idea, except it doesn’t always work.  According to the developer, the choice to not tell you who you are with and not give you any way to communicate with them was to “forge an emotional connection between them and the anonymous players they meet along the way.”  The only emotion I felt with the guy I played with was disgust.  He had clearly played the games many times before and ran ahead of me, doing what needed to be done and leaving nothing for me to do.  For 15 minutes or so, I just ran behind him, doing nothing other than keeping up.  A game I was already bored with somehow found a way to bore me even more.  When I finished and the list of players I encountered displayed on the screen, the one I played with the most was named “superVagtastic420”.  Yeah, feels about right.

The game received many Game of the Year awards and a ton of wonderful critical praise.  Across the board, it received review scores of 9s and 10s.  Unfortunately, I think “Journey” is highly overrated.  Don’t get me wrong, I love when a developer goes in a different direction and tries something ambitious and new.  But, I think “Journey” isn’t done, yet.  It feels incomplete, like it’s still baking.  It feels like a tech demo of a great game that is still to come.  I think reviewers are so desperate for a new experience that they graded “Journey” high based on it’s potential, not on what it actually is, which is kind of ironic, because usually it’s the other way around, with games getting graded low because they don’t reach their potential or preconceived expectations.

There may also have been a lot of hype that raised my expectations up to a level that “Journey” could never reach.  That has happened to me with games, movies, books, albums, and TV shows in the past.  Still, I stand by my thoughts that “Journey” is not quite done, yet.  I’ll happily play “Journey 2”, if it is ever made, and see if it takes that next step.  If it does, I’m on board.  If it doesn’t, then maybe “Journey” isn’t one I should be taking.

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Game Review: Too Human: Replace ‘Human’ with ‘Hard’

Too HumanI recently finished “Too Human” for the Xbox 360. This game was way too hard, and while it may have been difficult by design, it wasn’t a satisfying kind of difficult, but a frustrating one.

To help explain, there are series that are difficult on purpose and it works. These are games like “Ninja Gaiden” and “‘Splosion Man”, where your character doesn’t necessarily get any better, but you do. Your skills get better (or not) and you feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish the increasingly difficult stages. Unlike these games, “Too Human” is a level and loot game. You are supposed to level up and find better loot (weapons and armor) to make your character stronger. The whole point of a level and loot game is to be more bad-ass after every fight, either by leveling up or equipping better loot. By the end of the game, you’re mowing down the enemies, and if you’re not, then you can go back through an area and get stronger or find better loot.

Where “Too Human” takes a major misstep is that the enemies get stronger in time with your character. Go up one level and all of the enemies go up one level. Get a better weapon that deals more damage and the enemies start to deal more damage. Equip stronger armor to increase your defense and the enemies increase their defense, as well. It doesn’t matter if you level up and collect awesome loot, because the enemies adjust on the fly to always stay one step ahead of you. All of the fun of leveling up and finding sweet loot goes away when neither do anything for you. Whether you play the game with the best gear or the worst gear, it will be the same level of difficulty. It’s misleading. When a game lets me level up a lot and drowns me in loot, I expect the levels and loot to mean something.

If they had removed the leveling system and all of the loot and just marketed “Too Human” as a challenging fighter like “Ninja Gaiden”, I may have been more forgiving of it. Actually, no, I wouldn’t have. A challenging fighter needs an excellent combat system and camera, because when it’s all about your skill level, the game can’t get in the way. Unfortunately, “Too Human” doesn’t have either of these things going for it. The combat system was always a few seconds behind my button presses. And the camera, which needs to stay fixed during battle because you point the right-stick at the enemy you wish to attack, would always swing wildly around the room to present the most cinematic view of the battle. The two of these together led to me launching combos on empty space where enemies weren’t, either because the combat system was 4 seconds late in executing the move or because the camera spun around to a different angle and the enemy was no longer where my attack was originally aimed.

Even with this game being readily available both new and used for less than $10, I have a hard time recommending it to anyone.

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Ruining Memories – This Is Not About George Lucas

Earlier this week at Tokyo Game Show, Square-Enix announced that they are going to remake one of their classic Final Fantasy games in full, stunning HD for this current generation of consoles. They want to give one of their classic titles a chance to shine again, but now even brighter, thanks to high definition graphics and today’s even more advanced gaming technologies. This remade title will be Final Fantasy… X.

What? X? As in, “Ten”? What about VII, which is undeniably one of the most beloved JRPGs of all time. I don’t have anything against “Final Fantasy X”. It did prove to be a very popular (and good) entry in the series. It was the first game to jump to the PlayStation 2 and a new generation of consoles. It was also the first to be popular enough to garner it’s own direct sequel, “Final Fantasy X – 2”. Each Final Fantasy game has new characters and new worlds, but X was the first to get a direct sequel with the same characters in the same world, but facing a new challenge.

And history has even shown that “Final Fantasy X” and it’s sequel, “X – 2”, are the end of an era. They were the last traditional JRPGs to have the “Final Fantasy” name. XI, as amazing as it is, is an MMMO, which is a massive online RPG. XII, another very good entry, is a hybrid of classic JRPG elements and the online, mob hunting style of XI. It can almost be called Final Fantasy XI Lite. XIII is… well, I don’t know what XIII is. XIII felt like an experiment, one that will hopefully be refined in XIII-2, due out in a few months. And XIV is another MMO, the next generation of the incredible XI.

I digress. While X might be deserving of a remake, why, when considering a remake, would Square-Enix look any further than “Final Fantasy VII”? Fans of the series have been begging for a remake of VII since the PlayStation 2 came out. And then they begged for it again when the PlayStation 3 came out. As a business, Square-Enix is in this to make money. Call me crazy, but I think they’d make the most money by giving people what they’ve been begging for over the past 10 years. It just blew my mind when I read the announcement and saw X instead of VII.

However, as a big fan of the series, I’m still interested to see what they do with the remake of “Final Fantasy X”. Is it going to be the classic, JRPG formula that made the series a global hit, but with shiny new graphics and sound? Or are they going to take this opportunity to change the battle system to something newer, like we saw with XII and XIII, or one that is completely different, unlike anything we’ve seen before?

Now that I think about it, maybe having a remake of “Final Fantasy X” right now isn’t such a bad idea. Not only does it give Square-Enix an idea of how fans are going to react to the changes in a remake before attempting to do it to their golden cow, but it gives us as fans an idea of what to expect out of a “Final Fantasy” remake. It could help to set our expectations before picking up a “Final Fantasy VII” remake, being disappointed, and then going online to blast Square-Enix for ruining a treasured gaming memory.

Oh, who am I kidding? Even if the eventual “Final Fantasy VII” remake is perfect, people will go online and rip on it and Square-Enix. That’s the culture we live in today. And that’s an entirely different blog entry for a later time.

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Amazeballs

[brightcove vid=979162801001&exp3=47033724001&surl=http://c.brightcove.com/services&pubid=46412909001&pk=AQ~~,AAAACs5syck~,78rNhQXP3tgTPdl2qizABxM_IAHV3k_7&w=300&h=225]

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited for a game. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever have been.

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I’m Kind of a Big Deal

This is how I rolled in “Dragon Age: Origins”…

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