For a while there, I was deeply in love with Dragon Quest VIII: The Journey of the Cursed King. Western RPGs like Fable and Jade Empire had made me soft, and I was itching for some stone cold dungeon crawling, the type made famous by the Dragon Quest series. Classic RPG gameplay, the likes of which I have rarely seen in this generation of video games. All this certainly isn't hurt by it's beautiful aesthetics: character design by Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragon Ball Z, and the most perfect cell-shading this side of Wind Waker. A beautiful, beautiful game, on many levels.
But having spent a few days away from the Playstation, I'm starting to wonder if I'm just experiencing a mild form of Stockholm syndrome.
I love the fact that it's all stats. It's a huge numbers game, knowing which monsters to battle and with what strategy. I love the fact that, if I was so inclined, I could bust out the graphing calculator and compute the outcome of any battle before I even start it. Guitar Hero it ain't. Ikaruga it ain't. But it's still got this wicked, twisted appeal.
Unfortunately - and this is where I think I've been spoiled - I'm tired of spending 2 hours a night just running around outside a particular village leveling up. Once I've finally reached a level I think is acceptable, I can tackle the quest I'm supposed to be working on, and this might just take a half an hour to complete. But there's still the 2 hours where I do nothing else in the game except repeat the battle-battle-battle-rest, battle-battle-battle-rest strategy. At least games like Oblivion present side-quests to take the grind out of "leveling up" and turn it into something vaguely entertaining. 8 hours into Dragon Quest, I haven't seen one side-quest.
And that's the worst part: if I didn't have to see the look on my girlfriend's face when I explain to her that I'm coming to bed at 2am because I've just spent the past two hours leveling up, I probably wouldn't mind this at all.
E3 this week. Biggest, most draining week in the gaming calendar. Not a chance of getting any serious work done.
First up, Sony annoucing their PS3s. First up, the facts:
20GB version - EUR499 / 60GB version - EUR599
20GB version will not have
Memory Stick / SD Storage
Same controller as the PS2 except with Wireless, no rumble feature and - get this - a tilt sensor
Releasing two versions of the same console is a smart move. Especially when you choose to remove such non-essential features (the Xbox 360's retardo Core pack didn't include a Hard Drive, meaning developers couldn't develop games using this feature.) Although the lack of HDMI output struck me as a little weird since this limits the PS3 as a Blu-Ray player. And let's face it, half of the point of the PS3 is as a way to sell the Blu-Ray format to consumers.
But the news about the controller is just funny. With so much pre-E3 talk focusing on Nintendo's new Wii-mote controller and how it would change the way we play games like Zelda, it's not surprising to hear Sony announce something similar. But this is so obviously a knee-jerk reaction, it's hard not to hear the collective groan rising up from bulletin boards across the internet. From 1up's report of the Sony press conference:
Ken Kutaragi is out showing off the last PlayStation controller, and basically looks like a sliver version of the Dual Shock 2. What's different? Sony has basically taken Nintendo's idea of a movable controller, and introduced the gyroscope technology into the PlayStation 3 controller. Yes, you read that right.
For Nintendo, the name "Revolution" had always been a codename. People might say that it had caught on with the public and changing it now will confuse people, but Nintendo were very up-front about this: Revolution was just a codename, just like "Dolphin" (Gamecube) and "Project Reality" (Nintendo 64).
Yesterday, Nintendo announced the official name of their next-generation console.
I'm on two minds here. Part of me thinks it's a brilliant, bold move - "Revolution" was too western, and didn't mean as much to its home market. Wii is a standard non-specific word bordering on onomatapaea. Whee!
The other part of me is wondering what names were rejected to come to this one. I'm reminded of an Eddie Izzard sketch, describing how Jerry Dorsey changed his name to Englebert Humperdink.
No updates because I've been too busy rocking out on Guitar Hero (which got its proper release today - hurry!)
Once I've played through a game, I rarely go back and play it again, unless it offers a significantly different experience the second time around. For example, when you finish Shadow of the Colossus, it unlocks a "hard" mode. Balls to that. I've got an ever-increasing list of games I have to play and an ever-decreasing amount of time to play them in. And especially not when it took a monumental effort to stop myself from smashing the controller to smithereens even on the "normal" difficulty.
Guitar Hero is so perfectly balanced, I can't help myself. I've worked through "easy" and "medium" and now I'm halfway through "difficult." Why? Because, unlike most games where luck has as much to do with your progress as actual skill, I can actually see myself getting better at Guitar Hero. When I first started playing through the game on "medium", I thought it might be fun to see what "I Wanna Be Sedated" was like on "expert" difficulty. I found out: Scary. I was booed off stage before I'd even reached the first verse. Now that medium is a long-distant memory and "difficult" is making me its bitch, I went back to "I Wanna Be Sedated" on expert. And y'know what? I finished it. On my third attempt. But I finished it.
To make matters worse, I'm finding myself replaying songs on "easy" (and "Medium"), just so I can fill the scoreboard up with top marks.
The last time a game hooked me like this -- improving my skill and beating my own scores, just for the fun of it -- was Super Mario Kart on the SNES. An odd comparison, to be sure, but one that makes me happy. I really didn't think people made games like this any more. Fun little games with no real narrative depth that can consume hours and still have you coming back for more.
One other thing I've noticed... playing this game has strengthened up my baby finger no end. It was always the runt of my fingers and even when I played normal guitar with it, it never really did what I wanted to when I wanted it to. Now, it's kicking my other fingers' asses. So, bonus!
Much as I love "survival horror" games, I have genuine trouble playing them. I like to think this is because I become so engrossed in the game and commit myself to it so completely that the scares are extremely effective on me. But others might say that it's because I'm a complete pussy. I'll let you decide which theory you want to subscribe to. When my girlfriend announced that she'd had enough of the 'cutesy' games I'd been pushing on her (the risible "Hello Kitty" game being the proverbial straw) and wanted to try something meatier, I realised it was time to bit the bullet and bring out Silent Hill 2, a game that had been lying untouched since I bought it almost two years ago. The idea being that she would play most of the game, handing (read: throwing) the controller to me whenever the action got a bit much for her.
Throughout the course of the game, you realise how much the game loves to fuck with you. It's true that most survival horror games like to fuck with you in some way - the cheap-but-fun parlour tricks of "Eternal Darkness" making you think your controller had become unplugged, or the twisted self-referential jokes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 - but Silent Hill turns this into an art form. The static on your character's hand-held radio being a particularly good example. It warns the player that an enemy is close, but doesn't give any indication of exactly where it is. And there's only one thing scarier than something you can't see: something you can't see, but know is there.
By the middle of Silent Hill 2, you'll have collected most weapons and found plenty of ammunition for your arsenal. Even on "normal" difficulty, the enemies aren't particularly troublesome. The ones you can't kill are easy to avoid. At this stage, even my girlfriend was taunting the enemies. I'm pretty sure I heard her smack-talking Pyramid Head.
And that's when the game pounces.
Inside a hotel, you come across a lift. You have to go down a couple of floors and pick up some items. Unfortunately, when you step into the lift (the only way down), an alarm goes off. A helpful sign informs you that the lift, in true videogame logic, has a weight limit of exactly one person. I spent five minutes shouting at the TV. "You sneaky fuckers! There's someone else in the lift with me! Someone on the roof! Someone I can't see!? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?!!" Eventually, I discovered what it wanted me to do: my inventory was weighing me down, so I'd have to dump all of my guns and ammunition and go in unarmed. It wouldn't even let me carry a stick to club potential enemies with.
And with that, my shouting went up a notch. I paused the game and shrieked at the TV for a good ten minutes. I knew that I would be in a cramped basement filled with the worst kinds of brain-spew this side of a Francis Bacon painting (see what I did there?). And I would be completely defenceless. In the end, I spent more time bitching and moaning about what I had to do than I spent actually doing it, but that's entirely beside the point.
Not long after the game was finished, myself and my girlfriend went on a late-night tour of Kilmainham Jail, a special one-off tour as part of heritage week, given by a friend of ours. It was all about execution within the jail, taking us through some of the places not shown on the 'normal' tour. I don't think anyone was as freaked out as us - the whole thing was exactly like something out of Silent Hill, right down to the creepy map on the wall.
So now, if anyone asks me if Silent Hill 2 is a good game, I tell them about walking through Kilmainham Jail, constantly checking over my shoulder for zombie nurses. It takes a truly spectacular game to mess you up long after the computer is turned off.
My DVD collection has reached the point where I can no longer keep track of what I've got, what I've loaned to other people or what I haven't yet watched. So for the past couple of weeks, I've been slowly loading my entire collection into Delicious Library. A very pretty application, with a number of really nice features (easy to mark an item as "on loan"; export to iPod, so I almost always have a copy of my collection on-hand), but still had problems for me. Most importantly:
Needs a powerful computer to run properly (which I don't have at home)
Needs a fast internet connection to run properly (which I don't have at home)
Last week, I stumbled across Listal. From the website:
Listal is a social website where you can list all the
movies, books, music and games you own and want!
Despite of the lack of a decent "import" feature (right now, you can only import from DVD Profiler), meaning I'm having to enter each one of my DVDs by hand, I'm moving my catalogue from Delicious Library into Listal. Why? Well, there's a few reasons.
I can access (and edit) my catalogue from any computer on the internet, not just my Mac
Thin-client suits my crappy internet connection
The listal server does all the heavy lifting meaning my Clearwire connection remains relatively unruffled.
RSS feeds for every context
Besides the obvious applications of any kind of RSS feeds, it also means I can export my RSS feed to something like iDropper to dump the RSS feed onto my iPod, replicating the functionality of Delicious Library. This will probably get even easier when Listal finally has a "proper" export facility.
User-specified tags, ratings and lists
This is really what sold it for me - the ability to completely tag my collection as I want to. So I can have a whole bunch of movies listed as "hangover movies," "Sunday matinees," "Cheesy horror." You get the idea.
And this is without even touching on the "social" part of the application - being able to see friends' collections, recommend new films and easily arrange loans.
Six years of working professionally as a systems administrator and last week I realised that I really don't know much about the 'theory' behind the stuff I do. I couldn't have told you what a 'sticky bit' was, but I could tell you how to implement one. Making sense? Anyway, so I've spent the weekend getting re-acquainted with low-level Unix stuff. This has mostly involved installed FreeBSD on my laptop and reading man pages for almost every command I've run. Along the way, I wanted to install mackers' o2sms and found out that FreeBSD's default perl doesn't have threading enabled. So I had to recompile perl - something I haven't had to do since 1998.
Never mind OS X which has made my daily computing life a joy, even binary Linux distributions like Ubuntu have made me very lazy. Given a choice between downloading a pre-compiled binary and running that, and having my machine download the source code and waiting 30 minutes while it whittles the software out of 1s and 0s, I'll choose the one that has me up and running as soon as possible.
I want out of computing completely. It's not like I can't do this stuff any more, I just don't want to.
Remember the "Double Life" ad for the Playstation? A marvellous ad, full of the kind of lyrical braggadocio Sony brought to the word of videogames. In that one ad, I believe Sony did more for raising mainstream understanding of the appeal of videogames than all of Nintendo's efforts throughout the previous ten years.
But the ad never really rang true for me. The creepy-cute kid with the lisp telling us how he'd "conequered worlds" seemed like a bit of a lie. The worlds I had conquered had been superficial, cartoon worlds. Even the largest maps in Command & Conquer never really struck me as anything more than an extended game of Cannon Fodder. A loose bit of fun that, ultimately, never made me feel even the least bit heroic. Certainly not as heroic as the games that creepy-cute kid seemed to be playing.
Shadow of the Colossus is the first game that has made me feel like I could be a part of that ad. I feel like I'm finally able to say, with no small amount of pride, that I have defeated giants. Armed with nothing more than a sword, a bow, and an unlimited supply of arrows (ahem), I have beaten... no, I have slain impossible goliaths. Did you hear that? I've actually slain something.
The sense of scale in this game is unbelievable. One level in God of War had you climbing a giant temple carried on the back of Kronos, the last titan. The scale of that one level sealed it for me - God of War was presenting familiar things in a way I had never experienced them and, as such, was one of the best games I'd ever played. Shadow of the Colossus does the same thing, over and over again. Each level (16 in all) has a different colossus, with a different way of defeating them. Some are more obvious than others. Some require more skill and/or dexterity and/or luck than others. But each one has a scope beyond any other videogame I've ever played. Quite simply, it's staggering.
The Colossi themselves are strewn across a huge, empty game world. This in itself is a courageous move by the developers. Given the games relative brevity (in 3 hours, I had defeated 7 Colossi, almost half the total amount), it would have been easy to put incidental challenges in your way - the occasional enemy that will pop up out of nowhere and take 10 minutes to defeat (Hello Zelda: Wind Waker!) - thus artificially lengthening the game. Instead, they kept it barren, which only adds to the epic nature of the game.
(Incidentally, I've also noticed that the developers have thrown in cool little spot-details, like an ancient campfire near where you battle a colossus. Not entirely necessary, but adds the overall atmosphere of the game.)
After Shadow of the Colossus, I still don't feel like I've conquered worlds. But I've conquered giants. And that's close enough.
I'm convinced there's a good war-themed horror out there somewhere. What started out as a general disappointment with Michael Mann's The Keep has taken me through The Bunker (awful) and Deathwatch (starts out promising, quickly turns awful). From reading IMDB's message boards, I thought Kong Su-Chang's R-Point would answer my prayers.
It tells the story of a squad of Korean soldiers in the Vietnam war sent to investigate radio transmissions coming from a group of soldiers thought to have been killed six months previously. Which is the same setup as Deathwatch. And that's the problem. Using the plot of Deathwatch as a foundation, R-Point tries to blend a mixture of Platoon, Apocalypse Now, The Blair Witch Project and The Shining, even going so far as to visually name-check some of these films. And among all these heavyweights, the few original things the filmmakers bring seem quite tame and undercooked.
On paper, it's a recipe for magic: war-themed horror mixed with the nerve-shattering tension that Asian filmmakers seem able to tap into so well. In reality, R-Point is a disappointing anti-climax. Oh well, i still have high hopes for Worst Case Scenario