Monthly Archives: January 2012

Final Fantasy and the importance of rules

My Final Fantasy XIII-2 review hit today, and I felt pretty lukewarm on the whole affair. I go into a lot of broader detail about the game as a whole in my review, but plot-wise I felt like the lack of “rules” really hurt it. I reference that in one paragraph, but this blog being my own personal place to ramble, I thought I’d go into more detail.

In sci-fi and fantasy, we’re offered fantastical worlds that work differently than our own. This makes for an excellent storytelling tool. However! Since these worlds are different from our own, we need a set of rules put in place to help us navigate it. These need to be readily apparent, logical, and most importantly, consistent.

Take Back to the Future, for example. In the first 20 minutes of the trilogy, we learn that time travel needs: (a) the flux capacitor, (b) fusion, and (c) 88 MPH. If any element is missing, time travel is impossible.

The rest of the trilogy hinges on those rules. Every conflict Doc and Marty run into is because they’re missing one of those key elements, and they need to solve it. They’re missing the fusion source, or the road to go 88 MPH. The rules define and drive the action.

Most of the time when a sci-fi or fantasy movie falls apart, it’s because the lack of established rules. We had a set of defined rules in the Star Wars universe, and then George Lucas gave us prophecies, virgin births, and midichlorians. People didn’t just hate this stuff because it was different, they hated it because it pulled the rug under our own rule set for the sake of plot contrivances. Also because it was really dumb.

That’s what Final Fantasy XIII-2 feels like. We’re given time travel, which can be a great narrative hook when it’s done right. But we don’t really get a set of criteria for why and how it works, and when problems might occur. We’re loosely told some bits about the line of Seeresses, but that’s not clear either. So to review the rules: Readily apparent? Negative. Logical? Nope. Consistent? Not even close. The plot is constantly introducing new elements, new rules, new deus ex machinas. It’s the story-telling equivalent of “a wizard did it” — sometimes literally, since a goddess plays into the action of this story.

More than anything else, that’s where XIII-2 failed. Give us rules. If you need help on how to do this within the structure of a video game, you are the studio that made Chrono Trigger. Play that a few times and report back.

As for that controversial ending, I’d rather not spoil anything too much. Suffice it to say that it’s the precise opposite of a deus ex machina. Rather than a sudden, inexplicable plot element solving all the problems when things look most grim, we get a sudden, inexplicable plot element that ruins everything when it all seemed peachy-keen. I wouldn’t mind the “to be continued” if it felt like the natural course of events, but in this case it just seemed contrived to shove some room in for a sequel.

For a full detailing of my opinions, including why the combat system remains and is actually even more totally fantastic, read my review.

  • Harmonix’s response is the best part of this story.
  • Place your bets, folks. Giants.
  • This reminds me ever-so-slightly of Elite Beat Agents.
  • I tend to think most people complaining about online passes like the one in Reckoning are usually being whiny and entitled. But, I do feel for people who don’t have an internet connection, and that’s the entire reason they want to buy a meaty single-player RPG, and they get locked out of content. I don’t understand why that doesn’t come up more in the conversation about this stuff.

First impressions: Dead Island, Skylanders, War in the North

It’s not often that I do a “first impressions” post for three separate games. But two Gamefly arrivals in one week and my decision to pick up Skylanders, and here we are.

Dead Island – It’s much more of an RPG than I expected, and much prettier as well. I do wish I had picked the firearms expert, because being the sharp weapons expert means I have to be in the thick of the zombies all the time. This pretty much means I die constantly. Also, damn those weapons degrade fast.

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure – I’ve only played a few levels, with the basic starter set of three figures, but it reminds me a lot of the Lego games. That is, if the Lego games were one big commercial and had you swap your characters out with physical objects that you buy with real money. It’s fun, but it’s also incredibly sinister and brilliant in its marketing savvy. I’m hoping that as I unlock more levels the combat gets a little more complex. I know it’s a kids’ game, but at the moment it’s a cakewalk. Also, my local Target has a ton of Prism Break and Drobot. I don’t see much point in getting a second tech-type, but I might pick up Prism Break sometime.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North – This game is pretty charming. The movement is a little sluggish and the combat doesn’t feel as fluid as I’d like, but it’s a good use of the license and not a bad action-RPG. I’m playing as the female mage, because magic is awesome. It could have used a bit more time to bake, but it’s a good way to keep me sated until Kingdoms of Amalur comes out.

  • Eden wasn’t my favorite of the PixelJunk games, but it sounds like Q made some nifty new features for the PC release.
  • I was ambivalent towards the word of Mass Effect multiplayer. Not on-board, but not a hater either. After seeing this trailer, I’m actually sort of looking forward to it. I like the plot motivation, and you can play as a Salarian. Sold. Now just let us play as an Elcor.

Mega Rage

I used to own and operate a Mega Man fan site, which still exists and is doing quite well for itself without me. So suffice to say I have some love for the character. Tonight Capcom revealed the old-school “bad box art” Mega Man would appear as a character in the Vita version of SFxT.

A lot of people were upset about this tonight, tweeting that Capcom won’t give us a proper representation of the character but doesn’t mind ragging on him, that sort of thing. I realized that I do not care. I saw it, I shrugged, and I went about my business.

Maybe it’s because there are more important things in the world to worry about, like the contentious political climate, or Middle-Eastern conflicts, or Juggalos. Maybe it’s that the inclusion is obviously just a stupid, overplayed gag. Maybe when Capcom killed Mega Man Legends 3, the part of me that ever held out hope that they’d do right by the character just kind of fizzled.

Whatever thing or combination of things it is, I felt no outrage or amusement or anything. I’m not sure I’m even the target audience anymore. So to this news, I say: meh. I’m a former fan site owner, so put off by the various franchise missteps that I felt no impact from this. It inspired me just enough to blog about it, merely for lack of other subjects to blog about tonight.

So a new 2D Mario for 3DS; that sounds pretty awesome, right?

  • Over a million bucks of taxpayer money because Yee and Schwarzenegger wouldn’t listen to multiple people who told them their bill was unconstitutional. That’s got to sting.
  • In other insane fighting game news
  • I didn’t think Insomniac would come back to Resistance anytime soon, but straight-up swearing off of it was a surprise. Maybe they’ll come back eventually, but it doesn’t sound like they’re keen on it.

Of Batmens, Lanterns, and Too Much Dialogue

It’s another New Comic Wednesday, and you know what that means.

Superman #5 – So. Much. Talking. I half-wonder if the artist for this book gets annoyed by how much of the work is covered by word balloons. I know there’s a lot of story to pack in, but it feels like they’re just writing a novel. A few interesting things happened, but I’m liking this one less and less as it trudges on. No wonder they’re advertising a new creative team taking over.

Flash #5 – Still fantastic art, some of the best paneling, and I do not care about the villain at all. I know I’m supposed to care about the villain, it’s a part of Barry’s past and so on, but I just can’t muster a crap to give. Hopefully the new problem hinted at the end here will make way for a new plot direction. It’s great in a lot of ways, but I don’t want to see any more of Mob Rule.

Justice League #5 – Unsurprisingly the best of the week. The writing is sharp (and concise, Superman) and the artwork is just packed full of nice little flourishes. Batman and Green Lantern have an extended bit of dialogue in this issue, sharp and punchy but spread out over a few pages, that is the perfect example of how these characters should play off each other in a group dynamic. Loved it from start to finish.

  • I must admit, that video of I, Robot blew me away. I had heard of it, but seeing it in action was something else.
  • This new Neo-Geo looks like a bad iPhone photoshop. I’m not saying it’s fake, I’m just saying if it is real, they were obviously Apple-inspired.
  • My first thought when I saw Hitman: Sniper Challenge? Link’s Crossbow Training.

You got Skylanders in my Mass Effect

I’ve been cautiously curious about Skylanders. It seemed like a clever marketing move, but as reviews came in they seemed pretty positive. Word is it’s not too complex, but it’s fun and well-designed. Plus, you know, little collectible figures. Now I kind of want it, though I’m wondering if they’ll drop the price. It seems like one of those things where the real sale is in the extras. On iPhone, this means free-to-play with purchasable DLC. Obviously they can’t go that low, but I wonder if eventually the base pack will be cheap enough to invite people to just grab it with some extra stuff.

Apparently the idea is spreading. Mass Effect toys will apparently pack DLC. It’s not quite the same, it lacks the little base and you’re not carrying your characters around with you, but it has a spiritual connection. Now I’m wondering how long it will be before we see a lot of games doing this, and Skylanders will be regarded as the one that started the trend.

If Nintendo ever figures this out and applies it to Pokemon, may God have mercy on us all.

  • I do love the Dead Space series, but multiplayer was not the strong point of DS2. Part of that may been that it was beholden to the tone and control style of the single-player. Here’s hoping that with the freedom of a new franchise this mysterious project will turn out well.
  • I’m actually considering picking up the various XBL House Party games. 800 free points sounds nice. Maybe I’ll just try them all in demo form and go from there. Warp is probably the most interesting to me.
  • I still need to play Magicka, but man I like their sense of humor.

Finally, the Dominion Gods listened

I’ve been saying for quite a while that Dominion should be virtualized. Letting the machine take care of set-up for you, being able to play on the go, the fact that it already has expansion packs all built and ready — it seemed so obvious. Apparently my calls haven’t gone unheeded, because one of the news items I covered today was the reveal that Dominion is coming to iOS devices sometime soon.

I don’t usually get excited about apps, but the ability to play Dominion against AI opponents sounds pretty sweet. Plus, for friends who might have wanted to play but balked at the high cost of entry, I presume this will be a cheap(ish) way to get in.

I actually e-mailed Rio Grande games to ask a few questions. Apparently all of the expansions and promo cards will be “available,” but that didn’t really tell me how they’ll be priced. Part of me thinks there’s simply no way that they’d just include all the expansions in the app, but then again, they apparently gave their blessing to free knock-offs as long as people take them down when the official one goes up. Maybe they’re just incredibly charitable.

But whatever. I’m pretty in the tank for Dominion, so that’s a day-one app purchase for me. If the expansions cost extra, I’d probably grab those as well. You should too.

I finished a review game last night, and worked on the review tonight. It won’t hit until next week, but I’m pretty proud of how this one turned out. I write smart words goodly.

  • Apparently a lot of people thought this news about a Diablo 3 producer leaving meant some sort of doom and gloom for the product. I don’t quite understand the leap of logic required there.
  • The aforementioned Dominion news.

Internet activism works once in a blue moon

One of the stories I covered today was about how SOPA and PIPA have been put on the shelf; not killed entirely, but this strikes me as a saving-face maneuver and now they’ll quietly never be heard from again. The ESA later dropped its support. So score one for Internet activism. It had to work eventually, right?

I made a tongue-in-cheek tweet about banding together against pirates. One astute friend asked how exactly we would do that, and I have no idea. That’s really the sticking point, how no one can find a way to stop it. That said, this ongoing war between pirates and companies keeps having the ugly tendency of inconveniencing paying users. The companies come up with more restrictive DRM, the pirates crack it and claim it’s a principled stand because of the restrictive DRM. I tend to think they’d pirate anyway. It’s an arms race with no victors and no end. SOPA was an extremely flawed attempt at solving it for good. I’m glad we didn’t go with the nuclear option, but I’m frustrated that the battle will still be going.

In other news: Witcher 2 is our Shacknews Game of the Year.

  • The XCOM creator likes Valkyria Chronicles and Advance Wars? I haven’t met him, but I like that guy.
  • Still waiting for that Angry Birds bubble to burst.
  • The aforementioned SOPA/PIPA story (and the ESA story written by someone else).
  • Funny enough, I grabbed this story about The Old Republic receiving an accessibility award before I really looked at it. I came to find out it was from AbleGamers, and the two quotes from the press release are the two guys I spoke to when working on a GamePro piece called “Making a Disability-Friendly Industry.” Unfortunately it’s down now due to the passing of GamePro, but it was still kind of cool seeing that come back.

Resident Evil: Bad Enough to Save the President

Tonight saw the premiere of the Resident Evil 6 trailer. It had been circulating as a rumor for long enough that I’m not sure anyone was particularly surprised, but the direction for this one looks interesting. It may be that the setting is more urban-American, but it looks like they’re making a very conscious choice to return to the classic style.

I was a little disappointed by the CG/gameplay ratio, but then I just generally don’t like cinematic trailers very much. I get a much better sense of how a game will feel from seeing it in action. That said, zombie president? How is it no one has thought of this before?

  • This seems like one of those scams that would be patently obvious, but maybe if someone thought Halo 4 was closer they’d fall for it.
  • I should pick up Sonic CD one of these days.

Spider-Men and diving artwork

With the Year in Games series out of the way, time to get back to normal. Like talking about comic books. This was a pretty short and sweet week; I thought it was going to be much bigger because the Pull List app had Justice League on for some reason, and I was considering Avenging Spider-Man. But no JL, and I decided to skip Avenging, so just three.

Wonder Woman #5 – One of my favorite things about this book is the focus on Greek mythology. If I understand correctly, that wasn’t really a focus before the New 52 reset. I get a little thrill every time I see how they’ve rendered a new god. The designs are really distinctive. The Olympians look less like members of a team with slightly different outfits, and more like they’re customized to fit each role. This one gave us two new gods, but was otherwise a bit bland. I do worry they’re starting to subtly sex-up the character, what with all the panels in the middle of her clothing clinging to her in the rain.

Ultimate Spider-Man #6 – This was and remains one of my favorite comics for its writing, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed at how the art took a dive. It’s not even really “bad” per se, but it’s definitely not up to scratch of the gorgeous art from the first five issues. At any rate, the plot remains interesting, we got to see the new Spidey taking down some common street crime, being targeted by police, and demonized by the Bugle. Classic Spider-Man stuff. It also ended on a really nice scene with Miles’ uncle that seemed very cinematic in its presentation.

Batman #5 – My winner for the week. I think it was last week’s Batman book that got really boring, with Batman basically monologuing the whole time that he’s skeptical about something we as the audience already know is true. This week, on the other hand, they did some really nice touches with the art, panel, and book layouts to show Batman slowly going insane in this labyrinth. It was still all monologue, but it was way more interesting and insightful for the character. The very end, when we cut back to non-Batman characters and things “normalize” again, it has that much more punch.

Speaking of Batman, we of the Shack offices split up our duties writing about our picks for the games of the year. I was tasked with writing our #3 (aka #2 runner-up), Batman: Arkham City. And you do know how I love writing about Batman.

  • Oh Hudson. Your weird little hard-skulled caveman will live on in our hearts.
  • Man does this game/studio/developer look weird.

Year of the Games: December 2011

This has been a fun little exercise, but like all things it has to come to an end eventually. December is the month that things slow down, but I was also playing catch-up a bit.

Mario Kart 7 – It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but as fan of Mario Kart games I can’t complain about a nice-looking portable one with some nifty online features. The new tracks are particularly good, but I think they could’ve chosen much better ones for the Retros. Also, this game is begging to make use of Nintendo’s new policy toward DLC.

Shadows of the Damned – Another example of stupid, over-the-top humor done with a touch of cleverness. Too bad the combat felt flat and repetitive.

Solatorobo – I wanted to like this as some sort of spiritual successor to Mega Man Legends, but the only words that came to mind were “boring furries.”

Gotham City Impostors beta – Surprisingly fun little take on the multiplayer shooter, looking forward to playing the full version.

Saints Row 3 – “Holy Crap, Did You Just See That? The Game”

Dark Souls – I’m convinced that about 60% of the reason this game is challenging is that the controls are an unintuitive mess.

Kirby Mass Attack – I enjoy Nintendo’s experiments with Kirby, and this is another nice little different diversion. It’s not a typical platformer, but it owes its seeds there. The stylus controls can be a little awkward sometimes; otherwise, lots of fun.

And we’re done! Every game I played in 2011. Probably.

  • I actually live pretty close to DC, so I’ll have to check the Smithsonian exhibit out; maybe see if I can get an interview or impressions in.
  • Syndicate has me curious enough to try a demo.