August 31, 2007

Call of Duty 4 Beta

I was lucky enough to get chosen to participate in the CoD4 Beta.  I downloaded it last night, but didn't have time to play.  Actually, I did jump into the middle of a team death-match game, but it ended after a few minutes, so technically, I haven't played it.
I will write some impressions when I get some actual playtime with it, which might not be until Sunday.  Hey, at least Monday is a holiday.

August 27, 2007

Marketplace Update

I managed to tear myself away from Bioshock long enough to check out some of the Marketplace content that has been put up lately.
- Free GRAW 2 maps!  I downloaded these, but have not tried them.  They used to go for 800 points, so go get them now for free!
- Madden 2008 demo.  Tried it really quick.  Hated it.  To be fair, it was late, I was very tired, and after all my 2K8 playing the controls were tough to get used to.  Plus I hate football demos with 2 min. quarters.  Will try it again eventually, but my first experience was nothing to write home about.
- Skate demo.  Wow, this one caught me by surprise.  The game is actually pretty damn cool.  Again, playtime was limited (had to get back to Bioshock), but the fact that it held my attention for as long as it did says volumes about the game.
MoH: Airborne - I have not tried this yet.  A lot of the videos have made the game look pretty cool (landing wherever you want) but I don't know how excited I can get for anymore WWII shooters (that aren't called Brothers in Arms).
Katamari demo - The first PS2 game was charming and different.  This 360 one looks about the same.  And I mean, EXACTLY the same.  Aside from running in HD, this game's graphics are just like the PS2 game from a few years back and looks downright prehistoric.  If that was an artistic choice, it was a damn crappy one.

August 24, 2007

Bioshock impressions

For the last 2 days I have been able to devote a good chunk of time to Bioshock.  So far, the game lives up to the promise of being a strong Game of the Year contender.
I'm about 15 hours in and I really do not want the game to end.  The world of Rapture - the game's underwater city - is one of the most impressive and intricately created game worlds ever made.  Every room, every corner, every last detail is masterfully rendered.  No matter where you look, close inspection hints at a history.  Advertisements, vending machines, all now abandoned and destroyed.  Bodies decaying, messages written in blood, water seeping in from cracks, it all comes together to form one of the most atmospheric games in history.
It really helps that on a technical level, the game is pushing the 360 in ways few other games have.  Visually, the game stands, in my opinion, as the most impressive title to date (sorry Gears of War).  It works on all levels: geometry, lighting, art direction.  The water is to die for.  The color pallette is perfection.  Above all, the visual style, with its art deco retro-future look, is what ultimately sucks you in.
Surprisingly it gets even better on the audio side.  I knew I was in for an audio treat when entering the mysterious light house at the very beginning and hearing an instrumental rendition of "Beyond the Sea" as if being played by a phonograph in the distance.  Once you arrive in Rapture your surround sound system is in for a workout.  There is constant sound around you.  The city is slowly succumbing to the ocean and you hear creaks and groans, water dripping, you hear Raptures deranged citizens talking, their madness coming through clearly in their dialogue.  And then of course, there are the Big Daddies.  You hear these behemoths from 2 rooms away, their footsteps echoing through the walls.  Their bellowing roar, once engaged in combat, shakes the screen, blurs your vision and sets your subwoofer into a frenzy.  You feel it, more than you hear it.  Well, I shouldn't say that, because you definitely do hear it. :)
Because of how well the visuals and audio come together, and how realistic Rapture seems, you can't help but get completely sucked into the story.  You really do want to discover what happened here.  I won't go into story details here, not only because I am still only halfway through the game and am not sure what is going on, but because I also would not want to ruin it for anyone (who am I kidding, nobody is reading this).
I'll be giving further impressions and even commenting on the game's negatives in the future, for it is not perfect of course (and I love writing about my gripes)  =)
But Bioshock, in my opinion, stands as the best example and what this new generation of gaming has to offer.  Not just on a technical level, but in overall quality, detail, story and execution.

August 16, 2007

Operating on a different level . . .

I awake to a mouthful of salt water. I awake to chaos. Submerged in a cold blackness, my instincts push me upward, towards the surface. Towards the faint light above. That faint light erupts into a burning inferno as I break the surface. Disoriented I look around. Debris lines the water, a ring of fire practically surrounds me. I am blinded by smoke and still gagging from the water in my lungs. I force myself to move, to react. Swimming forward I see the tail end of the passenger plane sinking into the dark abyss below. My mind races. Are there other survivors? I will surely perish out here in the middle of nowhere. Panic comes over me. This is how I will die . . .

The smoke parts momentarily and I catch the glimpse of a deep penetrating light in the distance. A light house? I force myself to swim onward, hope fueling my aching muscles and decreasing spirit. As I clear the thick wall of smoke I see a huge structure silhouetted against the moonlight. Waves crash against its rock surface. The beacon of light once again illuminates the night. It is a light house!!! Swimming towards it I am greeted by stone steps leading directly into the dark waters. I crawl onto the cold stone surface and collapse, taking one last backward glance at the crash site. The plane is almost completely submerged now. The fire is dying down. Soon the only remnants left will be the debris which floats on the surface.

I take a moment to catch my breath and turn my attention towards the top of the stairs, which curve around the giant structure. I begin climbing, making sure to keep my balance on the slick stone surface. The sound of the surf crashing on the rocks below get drowned out by the whistling wind as I ascend higher. I begin to shiver, cursing my wet clothes which offer no warmth, just a chilling cold which seeps deep into my body. I reach the top and see a pair of gigantic bronze doors, the left one slightly ajar. They are a magnificent sight. Each door carefully carved in intricate detail, only the earliest signs of rust from the salty air creeping up its edges. Beyond the entrance there is only darkness. I hastily step inside, preferring the unknown within to the bone-chilling cold outside.

As I enter I hear the buzz of electricity and the room is suddenly basked in light. Squinting from the sudden blinding flash, I make out a statue of a man, sculpted in solid gold, and a large banner behind it with a message:

"Welcome to Rapture"

- - - - - -

That was the first 5 minutes of the Bioshock demo, available now on the Marketplace. A game which I have only the highest of expectations for. And one, which from just the short demo, has already surpassed them.

To go into more detail on the brilliant demo would be a disservice to those that have yet to play it. I implore everyone to give it a shot and just enjoy the ride. It is a game crafted by a truly talented and passionate developer. And the demo alone proves that Irrational Games is working at a differentl level than almost every other developer out there.

The full game is out next week. And that already feels like an eternity.

August 06, 2007

Portland Pics

Here are some pics from my Portland trip to pay Powerpuff a visit . . .

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APF 2K8 Review

APF 2K8 definitely is an interesting game. On one hand, it is one of the best playing football video games ever made. On the field, the game shines. Take NFL 2K5, fix many of its faults gameplay-wise, add a whole mess of amazing new animations (including plenty of player specific ones that look fantastic), and you have one solid gridiron experience.

Off the field, the game fumbles. The groundwork is set for a fantastic non-licensed football game, but it seems that Visual Concepts did not go that extra step to really deliver the game (with the options) that it should have.

The game offers over 250 "Legend" NFL stars from the past. You are able to create your team using 11 of those Legends as your base. Legends are broken into 3 tiers: Gold, Silver, and Bronze (depending on their skill level). You are allowed 2 gold, 3 silver and 6 bronze players on your squad. Picking and choosing how to distribute talent is one of the game's best aspects. Building your team is a whole lot of fun.

In fact, before you even make it to the main menu upon firing up the game for the first time, you need to create a team. I thought this was pretty cool. Why beat around the bush right? Creating a team with your own Legends is what this game is about, lets get right to it. It wasn't until later that I found out why the game does this. It appears that Visual Concepts (for some unknown reason) decided to ONLY let you play the game with your created team(s). Sure, there are pre-made teams that you may play against, but you cannot play as them. Those pre-made teams do not follow the 2 gold, 3 silver, 6 bronze rule that you are restricted to, which is cool and makes some teams better than others (like in the NFL). But the fact that you are restricted to using only teams you create baffles me. If your friend comes over and you want to play against him, you better hope you have more than one team created, otherwise (unless you want to pit the same team versus itself), you will have to quickly create another team for a quick versus game. And after that game is over, if you want to play another one with different teams, you are going to have to keep creating teams to use (you can create up to 8). This seems like an unnecessary restriction to put on the game, especially if all you want to do is play a few games in Quick Play. For on-line play, I agree with only allowing created teams, but off-line it is just stupid.

The game offers an impressive array of options for customizing the look of your created team, and already many people have used it to create NFL teams that look very convincing. One big issue I have though is that the game does not let you customize the generic players on your team in anyway. After you choose your 11 legends the rest of your squad is filled with generics that are created by the game. You are able to choose what you want your generic players to specialize in by squads (finesse, balanced, or power for running backs; run blocking, balanced, pass blocking for offensive linemen, etc.). That is kinda cool but very limiting at the same time. It is not very realistic for your entire squad to have similar skills. If you chose "possession" receivers for your generic wideouts, they run better routes and have better hands, but they are all painfully slow. Unless you have a speedy legend receiver on your team, your entire receiving core consist of a bunch of pretty slow guys with semi-decent hands. I would have liked a bit more variety.

Like I mentioned, you cannot customize your generics in anyway. Many times you have players on your team that share the same jersey number. That is a big no-no. If we could edit these guys we could prevent that from happening (the game should really prevent that from happening itself, no excuse for it). Another problem with the generic players is that, well, they are TOO generic. APF does not have any ratings for its players (visible ones at least). The legends are assigned a certain number of "skills" that give them certain specialties, but generics get none. And since there are no other ratings, we have no idea how good (or bad) these guys are. Does that mean that every generic receiver in the game that is a "possession" receiver has the exact same speed, hands, etc.? If so, that is incredibly lame! And it leads to my biggest gripe: season mode.

I'm a big fan of franchise modes. I'm not a big on-line gamer, so I need a pretty robust single-player experience. This game offers no franchise mode, just a season mode in which you play one season. Adding to the fact that the season mode is as barebones as it gets, you are dealing with a league that has zero history behind it and is made up (for the most part) of generic players that basically have no determinable ratings, hence, they have zero personality. Obviously the season leaders in every stat category is going to be a legend, and get ready for some amazingly inflated stats at that! Eight games into my season every single QB has a passer rating over 110!!! Warren Moon is leading the league with a 91% completion percentage! After eight freakin' games!!! Give me a break! The stats are so incredibly inflated that it kills season mode for any simulation fan. And the experience is made all the more shallow because most of your team is made up of a bunch of nobodies with no attributes, skills, or anything to make you care about them in any way. As an example, pretend you are in a game, it is 3rd and long, you only have one WR legend, but he's been double covered the entire game. Who is your next "go to" guy? The other 4 WRs on your team are generic, but in real life surely one of them has better hands than the rest. Your coach will know this. In this game, you do not. You can try to force the ball to your legend, or just hope for the best and throw it to one of your "no name" players. Now, some might say that will be your own fault for only having one legend receiver and no back-up plan. But my problem is not that I only have one star receiver, it is that I do not know at least who my second best option is. If I at least know that the guy with the 2nd best hands on my team is receive X, then even if I throw it to receiver X and he drops it, at least I know I was going to my second best option. That is all I want. I want to know who these guys are.

I am not completely against not having ratings for players. After all, what really is the difference between a 98 overall rated player and one rated 97? But I think every player needs to have some sort of scouting report, letting you know what they excel at (or don't excel at). Even if it is just something simple. For example, for your WRs you can have just a few relevant categories (hands, speed, route running, etc.) and then have a scouting report that rates them either: awful, below average, average, good, excellent, elite. That's all. Add that and all of a sudden your generic players have some traits you can look at. Keep every other rating hidden, you now at least know who your 2nd best receiver might be for a given situation. Apply this to every position and you just improved season mode by 100%. Throw in a few generics having a shot of having at least one special ability and things can get even more interesting. It could even be based on your performance on the field during a season. Have a generic TE all of sudden come down with a few nice catches over a few games and he might acquire the "Soft Hands" skill. If he doesn't keep up his performance he could lose it, but he was rewarded for his performance and that opens up the possibility of some "generic" players being diamonds-in-the-rough and actually making it to the top of some stat categories.

Another thing that could have greatly improved season/franchise mode is a little background information about this "APL" League. Maybe if you select any team and press a button, you could get a short clip of that team's strengths, their best players, how they've done the last couple of seasons and what their outlook is for this year. Blitz: The League had something similar in their marketing for that game by creating a fictional league website, with news stories and team bios. To this day that has been one of the coolest marketing ideas I have seen for a game yet, and if the game would have been a simulation of football (instead of an all out arcade-fest with cheating A.I.) I would have purchased the game in a heart-beat. APF would have greatly benefitted from some league history like that.

I don't play on-line so I cannot comment on that portion of the game, but they have on-line leagues available and if I were to play on-line, leagues is where I would want to do it.

Graphic-wise the game is a mixed bag. Overall, I am pleased with the visuals, although my first impression was that they were not very next-gen like. The more you play it though and begin to notice all the subtle details in the animations, the visuals grow on you. Up close, surprisingly, the game looks absolutely fantastic. You know how in most games the closer you zoom in the worse the graphics get (I'm looking at you Gears of War!). In APF the opposite is true. Go into replay mode and zoom in as close as you can. The level of detail and the cleanness of the textures is just phenomenal! Zoom in on the ball and it almost looks photo-realistic. You can see the seams and tread in a player's jersey and their faces react realistically when getting tackled, showing pain and closing their eyes. Animations (as I mentioned in previous posts and in the youtube video I posted) are so far beyond anything out of EA that it is almost laughable. QB's animate better than any other football game ever made. Different QB's have different throwing animations and speeds at which they are able to get the ball off. It is a beautiful thing to see. O-line and D-line interaction is again fantastic (2K5 was already great) and seeing gang-tackles again after a few years of Madden's solo-tackle extravaganza is a welcome sight. There are some negatives though. Like I said, during regular gameplay the graphics don't scream "next-gen". The grass textures are beyond terrible. The lighting is pretty blah. I don't get that great sense of "sunlight" versus stadium lights, not enough shadows on the field, etc. Stadiums are a mixed bag. Some are inspired (if not a bit over the top) and some look pretty boring. Madden definitely has this won (although they do have the benefit of having something to work off of). And my biggest graphical gripe are still the transitional animations. I guess they bother me so much because all the animations in general are so life-like, that when you see some of the transitions and how abrupt or unnatural they look, they can be a bit jarring. There is still a ton of clipping too, although mostly only noticeable in replays. Lastly, sometimes the speed of some of the tackles is too fast and violent for the momentum the tackle player had before engaging.

Audio-wise, I find a few problems with the game First off, the game's "Field-Pass" feature - which occasionally shows you cut-scenes of the players on the field either trash talking or communicating with their teammates - is terrible. It comes off as a bit corny and the player voices and personalities don't always match their real-life counterparts. Unless you are going to have the actual players record their own dialogue, then this feature should be dropped. Next up, the commentary. Dan and Peter are back from 2K5. To some that is good news. Personally, I cannot stand these two guys. At least not anymore. It doesn't help that a lot of the dialogue is recycled from 2K5. A lot. For the most part their banter just doesn't sound real. Not by a long shot. MLB: The Show's commentary has just totally spoiled me. Crowd reaction and volume is actually pretty good. My only other gripe is that I wish you could rip sections of songs from your HDD and set up the stadium to play them after certain plays (sacks, TDs, ints), that was a really, really cool and underrated feature from 2K5.

Overall, I am very grateful that 2K has decided not to abandon us fans in light of EA's NFL license acquisition (although these last 3 years have seemed very, very long). I really hope the game generates enough sales to warrant an APF 2K9 because there is a solid foundation here and huge potential for an authentic and deep football experience. Gameplay-wise, the game is solid. Not perfect, but still the most fun I have had with a football game since 2K5. With additional tweaks, a lot of added features, more customization, and a revamped engine (those grass textures are painful!), then APF will have all the tools to be the best football game ever made.

August 01, 2007


Gametrailers has a few videos of Madden 2008 in which the developers talk about what is new in this year's game. The "big" thing this year is the new branching animation system, which lets you interrupt animations at any point to give players extra control over their players. That is a great idea. However, from the videos, I'm not sure it is being implemented very well. Actually, I shouldn't say that, since I have not played the game. I'm sure controlling your player feels more responsive now, but holy hell, it looks to me like the animation has taken a HUGE step back as a result.

Everything I saw in the videos regarding player movement looked completely unnatural. These animations are far from life-like. Madden has always been a few steps behind 2K animation-wise, but after hearing about this new system and the improved player interaction, gang-tackling, and mid-air collisions, I was hopeful it would push Madden forward, since that has always been my biggest gripe with the game. But wow, it just does not look like football. It also does not help that in every video the person playing would drop back 20 yards with their QB, run to the sidelines, and throw a rocket down the field. Typical Madden gameplay. Completely unrealistic.

The game comes out in a few weeks, I'm curious to see what they say about it. And by "they" I of course do not mean sites like, IGN, Gamespot, etc., I mean people that know what they are talking about in sports games, like Operationsports.

I know I say it every year and end up caving in, but Madden does not look like a purchase for me this year (Ok fine, there is a good chance I will cave, I have no will power, but I am really going to try).

Quick note, after I was done watching all those Madden videos I popped in APF 2K8 and have never been more impressed with how this game looks than I was last night. I might have thought it was a bit on the ugly side the first time I ever played it, but after 15 minutes of Madden's terrible animation, I was so grateful to have APF. It really is a night and day difference.

Halo 3 Co-op

Although not exactly a surprise thanks to hackers dissecting the Beta-code, Bungie confirmed yesterday that Halo 3 will offer four player co-op through the campaign.   That is just fantastic news.  I wonder how they are going to adjust the difficulty/number of enemies to accommodate four players tackling the game on at the same time.  Hopefully they have a good solution and we won't have to play on Legendary all the time to get a challenge.  Although, I do enjoy playing the Halo series on Legendary.
It also looks like co-op might take the story into account and not just have four Master Chiefs running around.  Players 2 - 4 will apparently be playing as unique Elite characters, with player two playing as The Arbiter, and three and four as two other Elites.  Sounds interesting . . .