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19day

2013-02-17

Anodyne

Filed under: General — 19day @ 23:47:24

I’ve been playing a new game that’s trying to get on Steam Greenlight, called Anodyne. And it was compelling enough that I beat it in a single evening.

It’s a top-down adventure game that when I first saw it thought it might be like Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana, however the graphics, though 16-bit retro, were more retro than those games, and I was left a little disappointed. But it wasn’t until a little later when a jumping mechanic was added that I realized it’s actually more like a Link’s Awakening clone, which isn’t a bad thing.

Title could have been “Remember Which Gate Goes Where”

Graphics:
I sort of wish they had been crisper, since by default the game plays full-screen (though scaled into a viewport within the screen) and it’s reminiscent of playing emulated gameboy games full screen (ie, a little nasty). But that is part of the charm it seems to be striving for. Other areas make good use of lighting effects and other filters to make for some creepy looking areas. Unfortunately, each area is sort of a creepy area… the art can do creepy and depressing pretty well, but there aren’t many vibrant areas to contrast them. A main hub area comes close, but it’s not very alive or colourful. But the depressing/run-down areas really worked well I felt, especially with the music.

The only time I can satisfy my bloodlust for humans

Korean Nightmare

Music:
The music I found to be the best part of this game. Well, not just the music, but the sound effects in concert with the musical stings in various areas. Some of it isn’t music that you would normally tap your foot to, but more like how the ruined world from Chrono Trigger (Future overworld theme) was music. With the art style in some of the areas, I felt unnerved and somewhat creeped out, sort of how I felt during some of Twilight Princess when first in the twilight realms, with the music and the style. The music style sounds 16-bit as well, but I enjoy such scores.

Story:
Unfortunately the story didn’t evoke as much emotion as the art or music. The script sets up some mystery, leaning on the usual trope as being the guy who has to save the world but first must prove himself. Who are you and why are you The One? Not specified (at least not absolutely). I don’t mind that setup particularly, but none of the mystery as to what’s going on seems to be resolved, and I don’t mean in the way where you have to decide for yourself, I mean, I have no idea what some of it was supposed signify. Some of it feels like it was modeled on minecraft’s credits. They are all interesting ideas, but apropos of what?

I also didn’t much like the genre-parody that was going on, as it seemed to be at odds with the high-brow ideas the game was trying (or maybe I just thought that’s what it was trying) to convey. Instead of a sword you get a broom, and I was wondering if I was playing Space Quest or something. And you run into Link, derpily trying to cut down a bush, and a shop-keeper you can’t buy anything from since there’s no money system in the game, and an elder who tells you to just walk through the door if you talk to him enough. I feel such parody works better if it’s core to the game, but the more philosophical ideas and ‘weird for weirdness sake’ elements seem to be in the majority, and I feel the parody could have been shelved and the game would have been better for it, though it would still have to explain why the weapon is a broom.

Gameplay:
The style is very similar to Link’s awakening, with auto-generating maps as you move (but a lack of obtaining real maps to show the whole area). There is a frustrating lack of upgrades in the game, to your attack of defensive power. Most enemies will deal a unit of damage, and such they will forever. If it takes 2 hits to kill them, so shall it forever. There are upgrades to your weapon, to give wider area of attack (which I found useless) or extend it forward slightly (better), but I was always hoping for more upgrades as I progressed and none were forthcoming. There is no reason to kill enemies other than the fear of them damaging you. The only thing you’ll get is health drops. The limiter on progress is via a continuing fetch-quest, essentially ‘find the 15/25/xx keys to proceed’, which has you revisiting areas. That aspect is made easier by having access to a central hub where you can jump to other areas. Why is it there? Story does not divulge. Some of the jumping puzzles, in combination with tiles that speed you up, are some of the most frustrating things in the game. Though there really isn’t a penalty for dying, for me it was the loss of tooth-enamel from gritting while trying to boost-jump over a pit where the game would refuse to grant me to necessary speed.

Duuur, I hit the busheshes and money falls out

Some of the bosses were interesting and said interesting things that reminded me of Link’s Awakening (again) about the mystery of the windfish, making it all the more annoying when the story isn’t paid off. But the bosses themselves were pretty easy, and spamming attack was generally all that was needed. It was also a short game (at least, to beating the final boss and not collecting everything possible), I suck and beat it in around 5 hours. At least one hour of which was just making irritating jumps. And another hour was trying to work out what to do after beating a boss and not having anything happen, which I thought was a bug in the game.

There is some continue-playability with this game despite the shortness due to a final upgrade that gives you the ability to explore to areas that appeared to be inaccessible, though this frequently leaves the player stuck and needing to escape back to the hub, or loading from the checkpoint. And exploration frequently leaves one in areas that are… somewhat buggy. Though for all I know this is an easter egg since the game doesn’t crash.

The trouble is, I don’t know if this is supposed to happen

Controls:
Quite simple, just like a gameboy, a D-pad and two buttons are all that’s needed. And a start button. The menu controls I found trying at times, since I felt hitting Enter was more natural in selecting items once I had navigated. And I wish the map was bound to a single button rather than always having to reset my menu to the map options had I strayed elsewhere in the menu since I last needed the map.

Conclusion:
Pretty fun and thought-provoking enough to keep playing. Difficulty was pretty easy except maybe the last boss. The story wasn’t paid off enough to my liking, not enough upgrades and felt short. Not all of those are fair to put together, as having more upgrades with the same length of game would have felt like a waste of upgrades. If the game were twice as long, with a couple of upgrades to attack and defense along the way (maybe give us a reason to kill the enemies to get such upgrades), with some more exposition as we progressed in the game, I think it would be great. As it is though, it’s still quite good, and you should be playing it.

Anodyne site

2013-01-17

DeKoboization and the pursuit of one’s Destiny

Filed under: General — 19day @ 19:49:46

I’m not very consistent with this blog, that is for sure. But one thing I do tend to post is job changes.

I’ve just recently resigned from Kobo, it was a difficult decision, but for various reasons I felt like a change. I’ll miss the place, and the people, and the product. But I’ll have my Kobo eReader Mk I, Kobo Touch, Kobo Glo and perhaps soon an Arc to keep me company.

I’ll soon be starting at a continuing education management software company named Destiny Solutions, and I’m sure among their ranks that wordplay around joining the company and the term ‘destiny’ have been done to death, so I’ll skip that.

Oh, but I already did it, in the title, oh well.

2012-11-18

My Body’s Hobby is Producing Painful Particulates

Filed under: General — 19day @ 16:24:58

Pain. Why was I programmed to feel pain? Such has been my life on and off for the past couple of weeks.

It started Sunday, October 28th. It was late, I was spiraling down to sleep, when I felt a slight discomfort in my left side. In an hour, it was quite a pain. An hour later, I was sitting up unable to sleep or find a comfortable position. Normal pain tablets didn’t seem to do anything. The pain seemed very familiar… the localized point of burning sharpness, the inability to alter it at all by pressing into the affected area, and the constant pressure of it. It felt just like a gallstone attack, which I had experienced for years before the gallbladder, unsalvageable, was excised. Except it couldn’t be a gallstone, not having a gallbladder, and the pain being in my left flank. By now I had self diagnosed myself as having a kidney stone. I started to seriously fret.

My plan was to stay up all night (not as if I could sleep) and then when the pain went away in six or so hours, as it did for gallstones, I’d head into the local clinic to see what to do next. But by eight hours later, the pain was only worse, so I called a cab and went to Toronto East hospital. People who don’t know me well might not think that to have been a big step for me, but I’m the type of person who’d likely bleed out in the hopes of it stopping on its own. I have never gone to the hospital under my own power before, so I was pretty nervous. I got there around 8am, sat in a triage waiting area for around an hour before being registered. After a while I got to speak to a doctor who seemed a little skeptical that I had a kidney stone, as she said people who have them are usually in levels of pain that they aren’t able to stay calm, as I appeared to stay. I don’t know, I just didn’t want to outburst in public, at least amongst people I don’t know. Before my battery of tests started I was offered morphine. I stupidly rejected it because I thought I could control the pain. And actually, I think it wasn’t as bad at that point, but it did get much worse when I was on my back, which some of the tests required.

I started with a chest x-ray for some reason, then a CT scan which to wheeled me around in a wheelchair for which I felt weird about since I could walk perfectly fine. Then I had blood taken which is always a challenge as my veins don’t seem to pop. Somewhere in there I also gave urine, which I had rather a lot of since when the pain first started and I self-diagnosed a kidney stone I had drunk copious amounts of water. By the time the tests were done and I was back in a waiting room, it was around 1pm, and I was in agony. I was started to writhe around in my chair trying to find positions that would being relief but found none. I got to the point where I stood up and when to the desk with doctors and nurses milling around waiting for one to take notice of me or to stop talking long enough that I could get a word in. After a couple of minutes of this, the doctor who saw me earlier came by and asked if I was ready for that morphine now, and I very much was.

It took another agonizing half an hour to get the morphine in due to my stupid veins not taking the saline IV at first, and the doctor reviewed the CT scan and said that I indeed had a stone, and her and the nurse half-chastised me for trying to be ‘macho’ and enduring the pain earlier, and that I must have a high tolerance for pain, which I found silly since I don’t even like seeing the needles enter my arm. But it was neither here nor there, the pain had reached a crescendo and wanted whatever drugs I could get.

I had two bags of morphine, which took the edge off but the pain was still very present and debilitating, and was given a prescription for percocet and a referral to a urologist. I got the pills from the local pharmacy, first time filling a prescription in recent memory, and a painful 15 minutes. Took a cab home, took the pills, and finally slept. The pills worked quite well, for the pain anyway, but left me in a state of semi-drunkeness, dizzy, sick, tired, but also sort of wired. I was home from work for nearly the rest of the week. All the while I was hoping to pass the stone.

The idea was, from what the ER doctor told me, that the stone was at the top of it’s journey, just at the connection of the kidney to the line that took urine to the bladder, the ureter. The stone was somewhere around 7mm wide, while the ureter is 3mm, and despite my own research suggested 7mm was quite large, I was told that it wasn’t. She said that while on the pain killers, the stone would be pushed down by the pressure, into the bladder, and I would pee it out and probably not notice or see it, but I should try to catch it by peeing through coffee-filters. Not having filters, I used a bottle to inspect my outgoings. I was also to set up an appointment with the referred urologist in the next day, and if I hadn’t passed it by the time of my appointment, that surgery might be required. I also was about to learn that virtually anything I was told wasn’t strictly true.

I was unable to obtain an appointment with the urologist for days due to no one picking up the phone, and I was home from work at this point during week days, its as if they closed up shop. Days later I finally got an appointment, a week and a half later. I still hadn’t passed the stone, but the pain had let up by the end of the first week and I returned to work. I kept checking for the stone but I couldn’t find it. A pain did return a couple of times, an ache, as if caused by the damage as the stone passed, but still no stone. The last of the real pain by the end of the first week had it still in the side, but much lower as if it had made it’s travels, and I figured it was stuck in the bladder somewhere.

I finally had my urology appointment, where this doctor was of the opinion that my stone was somewhat unlikely to have made the journey. 5mm is apparently the safety point where it can pass on its own, but 7mm, it was probably stuck in the ureter, and found a position where it didn’t cause constant pain, but could still move and cause problems. So booked another appointment back at the hospital in another week and a bit, for an x-ray in the hopes of spotting where the stone has gone. Apparently CT’s involve rather a lot of radiation, which no one told me before my initial one, so he wanted to try an x-ray. So I left the appointment rather depressed that I might have to undergo a surgical intervention to get the damn stone out.

By the end of the week, I had another bout of pain in my side, and over the weekend a bit. At least I had gotten a refill for my pills which kept things under control. By monday the pain had passed, but a new pain had appeared… when I urinated, when finished, there was often a very sharp pain in my urethra, bad enough that it kept me from sleeping. So I returned to my pills so I could at least work. I wasn’t sure if the new pain meant anything, but I went back to capturing urine in a bottle for inspection, which ended up being a good idea. For nearly three weeks after the whole thing started, when I emptied my bladder one morning, for a second I felt something weird, and then a thunk in the bottle. I isolated it, and photographed it. My god damn stone. Looks like a martian moon or something.

That’s no moon…

2012-03-26

Skyward Sword

Filed under: General — 19day @ 01:42:07

So I recently ‘finished’ this game. Why with the quotes? well, I’ll come out and say it now, I haven’t been able to beat the final boss, and I’ve pretty much given up. But when the game I’m playing is about getting motion controls to register what I’m doing, it’s no longer a game I enjoy. So much so that I decided to write about it, and there will be spoilers, so be warned.

Skyward Sword has some of the elements that should make it a really good game, but I think it’s one of the worst ones in the zelda series, at least the 3d ones. One of which that comes up most often are the motion controls. I had quite a lot of trouble with the controls. The Wii motion plus lets you have one to one movements between the wiimote and your sword. It might have been neat for some of the enemies, but virtually every enemy requires hitting it from the one or two exposed directions, and failure can be quite punishing. At the start of the game I had quite a lot of trouble with the most basic plant enemies where I’d lose half my lift trying to hit it the way I needed to (and the only way permitted) to kill them.

every enemy blocks

Oh fuck you

One problem with how I played was that I was trying to be casual about it. I knew I couldn’t just waggle as in Twilight Princess, but even trying to waggle in the right directions proved inconsistent. Each movement has to be pretty specific for it to register I found, and since virtually every enemy requires those kinds of attacks, it made casual play somewhat frustrating. It seems like a game where you’re supposed to stand, and honestly, nuts to that. Sometimes you’d need to fake out an enemy by holding you sword to one side, and then attack from the other, which meant bringing the sword (wiimote) across quickly, but not so quickly that the game thought it was a sword strike… that was infuriating. Enemies that had electrified swords made each mistaken sword strike a lost heart. It was easier to run away and attack before they set up their stupid wiimote plus minigame

But there was one move that I found incredibly difficult to pull off, the finishing blow, which requires throwing forward the nunchuck and the wiimote simultaneously. I can only get it to work after trying a few times quickly, which worked sufficiently well for the other parts of the game. However, for the final boss, it is required as the last move, and you need to perform it within an incredibly short window. I basically got fought to a standstill, failing to pull off the move, until I got whittled down to a game over for the 3rd time, and then I gave up. I refuse to fight the controls, I just watched the ending cinematic on youtube. You needed a similar move in the recently previous games as I recall. You know how one performed that move in twilight princess? The A Button. Know how you performed it in Wind Waker? The fucking A button. Having the one to one sword movement is one thing, but a move so critical should be on a damn button.

The gameplay otherwise would have been okay, but it contained, for me at least, a critical mass of annoyance. First off is the inability to save anywhere I like. You can only save at specific spots, though they are generously provided I suppose. And I guess it’s welcome having the dungeon save spots where I can also chose to immediately warp out. The save points on the overworld also offer as a kind of fast travel, however the amount of cutscene you must endure for each hop might not even be worth it sometimes. The game continue screen has a little reminder of the current objective, which is helpful, but also indicative of how linear the gameplay is. For the main quest it seems you must do things in a preset order, except for the last section where you can complete the tasks in any order, but this bit is what led to a game-breaking bug. Speaking of bugs, I guess by preventing saving just anywhere it limits the kinds of glitches that can occur, like the now infamous cannon room glitch in twilight princess that was otherwise game breaking.

Where exactly might you be going?

One thing that made me groan in irritation, from the first moment I realized what the game was doing, is the use of fetch quests. So much of this game is driven by fetch quests, if seems you’re always trying to find the 3 or 6 or whatever number macguffins needed to proceed with the actual gameplay. The game tries to mitigate this by having your sword (in actuality, your first person view) dowse for whatever thing you’re looking for. This seemed like a neat idea, however, knowing that my goal (of perhaps several) is Right Ascension 4 hours 12 minutes and Declination 8 degrees 7 minutes, when the world around me is mostly not visible over draw-distance berms or in a maze, it’s amazingly not helpful. The most egregious example of the fetch quest (which other reviews have mentioned) is right near the end, where all you need is a dragon/deity to give you the latest 1/4 macguffin they are in possession of. You have already proven yourself to be the latest (or rather, the first) Hero du jour, you have the master sword, you’ve already personally helped them… so of course the dragon decides to test you in case you still aren’t quite *that* hero, but perhaps another one, and scatters her macguffin part into like 30 fragments around a watery world putting the semi-frustrating swimming mechanics to work. It isn’t quite timed, but there is a timed mechanic to the collection of the fragments which adds to my dentist bill.

But by far the worst fetch-questy-game-lengthingy part are the Silent Realms. There are 4 of them. Each one once completed bestows on you a gift from the goddess. Unfortunately, these bits are somewhat ripped right out of Twilight Princess, and in my opinion, the worst part of twilight princess. In the silent realm you must go around collecting Tears of [Goddess], except you can’t use your items, are chased by enemies that you can’t defeat, enemies that if they hit you force you to start collecting all over again, and has music designed to induce heart attacks. It’s easily the most stressful part of the game, worse than boss fights (to a degree). See, every time you collect one of the tears, of which there are 15 in each realm, you get 90 seconds to try to find the next before the undefeatable monsters come after you. If only the goddess had thought to send those after the big bad evil. Oh well. You can also pickup fruit of some sort to cause the remaining tears to beacon themselves for a while. See, I hated this part in twilight princess, but there was no time limit, no needing to start over if I took a hit, and the location of each was on my map. Not so in this.

The first Silent Realm was for the goddess of courage, so I thought, hey, running around avoiding scary one-hit-fail monsters, this is testing my courage. Maybe I’ll have to do a puzzle for the goddess of wisdom realm and fight a gauntlet in the power realm. To my disappointment, no, apparently courage, wisdom and power are all measured by my ability to find 15 things within 90 seconds of each other (or at least avoid the scary monsters with the scary music). For shame. And then when you think you’ve beat them all, they throw in one last one at the end as a fuck you. At least the prizes were sort of good, the first one let you swim around in the water, which was awkward but functional. The second one was the goddamn double-hookshot, now that was awesome. The third one… was a pair of earrings… that let me withstand the heat of exactly one room. So it’s basically a key. The last one was essentially a key having stopped beating around the bush. Sigh.

Everyone loved this shit in Twilight Princess, right?

If they were going to carry over something from twilight princess, it should have been the personality of your companion. I don’t actually know why we need one of these guys really. I mean, sure, Navi gave a sort of gameplay explanation for being able to lock onto enemies, to the extent that when she was unable to participate you lose the ability to do so. And wind waker had the boat, but I don’t recall the ability to contact the boat at will. Twilight Princess had Midna, who was almost always vaguely annoyed at you, the interactions were actually pretty interesting and fun to see develop. It was a tag-along character who actually underwent character development, far more than Link or Zelda themselves. In Skyward Sword, your companion is some sort of manifestation from the sword itself, and it speaks like a computer. I thought this would turn into a plot point, like maybe the sword was from the far future and was actually electronic in nature. But no, she just says stuff like “There is a 95% probability that there is danger behind this door” and “what is this thing you humans call kissing”. She has no personality, and at the end of the game they try to tug at heartstrings that simply aren’t connected. Now, the main antagonist you fight through most of the game is revealed to be sort of the anti-master sword belonging to Demise, “the Demon Lord”. I actually really liked this concept. I wish more had been done with it. Meanwhile, my own support character in my sword won’t shut up. She’ll reiterate things you just learned from NPCs, or will tell you that you can dowse for something that you know is like 100 miles away from you when you obtain the ability, but then beep at you to try your dowsing ability to remind you that it’s there. Most of the time the dowsing is damn useless… oh, Zelda is around here somewhere. Oh, the only thing I see in the distance is a temple, I bet she’s in there. Not once was she just hiding behind a tree.

Ah Zelda, she’s been taking lessons from Princess Toadstool. The whole fist third or half of the game is spent trying to reach her, and every time you make it through the dungeon and kill the boss, it’s always “Sorry Link, I calculate a 97% probability that our princess is in another castle”. But at least it provides clear focus for the first section of the game.

The musical element seemed very much tacked on. I feel they might have been planning something a little better, but ran out of time or something. In this game, you get a harp. ‘Playing’ it involves waving the wiimote back and forth like a duster or something. There are few reasons to do this outside of the specific areas you need to do it, it’s nothing like in Ocarina of Time where you needed to play little tunes all the time. They could have dropped the whole thing as far as I was concerned. I thought the howling stones were stupid, but now the harp takes that spot. There is emphasis on songs in this game, not that you play them, the sword-entity learns and sings them when needed as you accompany with the harp. None of them are good either, but the cutscenes are nicely ridiculous, and the animation of the entity singing makes it look like she’s trying to suck out someone’s soul, so that’s nice. The musical score in general was okay, but not overly memorable. Some tracks I’ve gone to listen to since they seemed nice, but I still love Twilight Princess’ score, it’s almost moving. Skyward sword’s score isn’t amazing, but it compliments the game without being intrusive or bad.

There are a few other gimmicks used in this game which I felt should have been left out, or maybe just implemented better. There is a forced stealth section right near the end of the game. I didn’t like it much in Wind Waker, but it was at the start of the game so you weren’t quite used to just killing everything yet, and it was cute moving around in barrels and such. But in Skyward Sword, it feels like by now you should be able to just kill things with your fists.. you’re not a kid, who cares if you don’t have the items or your sword. But no, if you get spotted, a cannon is fired at you, and while in the normal game of things you’d be able to dodge something like that, this is basically a forced -Fail- cutscene and then you have to try again from a checkpoint. Worse, much much worse, is an escort mission. I didn’t much like these in other zelda games, but I never felt the character I was escorting was in much danger. More like living keys or puzzle bits you’d carry around and occasionally take control of, in Wind Waker anyway, I don’t recall anything like it in Twilight Princess. But there is a section in Skyward Sword where you need to escort basically an idiot robot who follows you around whereever you go and immediately starts getting hit by enemies even as you run away. I ran out of arrows in this section where it is absolutely critical to have them, and ran back around trying to find enemies who drop them, but the stupid robot wouldn’t leave enemy kill-zone and I had to start again. There’s no way to make it stop while you survey the area either, it just follows you blindly, and then will fail to follow you when it’s under attack, or if you turn a corner and it gets stuck somewhere being stupid.

The story was actually why I kept playing, though the companion character is a loss, there is some nice stuff between Link and Zelda. In Twilight Princess, hell, Zelda hardly needed to make an appearance, her role could have been played by a regal sourdough bagel for all the personality and drive she brought to the game, it was all Midna. In this game, you actually feel there is a connection between to the two of them. What’s still amiss with this type of interaction is link remaining a silent protagonist. Sure, there’s no voice acting in this game, which might be a good thing, but why can’t Link actually talk? Provide his half of the dialog, as right now we only have Zelda talking. Sure, there are some dialog trees, but they don’t seem to actually change the outcome of the game, and it’s too little too late. Write an epic story, have the characters experience it and foist it on the player, if the story is good enough people will still cosplay Link, I assure you.

There is another bit that I found quite fun, which involves something akin to time travel, but more like having a sphere of time past brought into the present. It’s used to decent effect for some puzzles, but I think most interesting to the eye is when sailing across a sea of sand. The time crystal is in the boat with you, so as you move into a region, it is turned into water (as it was an ocean in ages past).

If only the King of Red Lions had an outboard motor

The bosses were pretty fun actually, except one where you have to fight The Ultimate Evil a number of times. See, in the past, the far past, this evil was imprisoned, way to close to the temple that if he reaches the world will end (or somesuch). It’s a big pit with a spiral ramp, and he’s a giant black walking thing. Your goal, according to your navi and online walkthroughs, is to slash away at his many toes until he falls over and you can then hit his head, do that a bunch of times to win. The first time I did this I barely managed it, and I thought it was designed to make me barely manage it. Note that the ‘barely’ part doesn’t mean I was near death, but that he was near the temple at the top of the ramp. It’s effectively a boss fight with a time limit.

The second time I had to fight him, I got my first game over, then my second, and then my third. See, the second time around he moves a bit faster, and it makes it quite hard to keep up with him. There are small vents around the edge to blow you up to the next level of the spiral, but that wastes precious time and ground, since there aren’t many laps of the spiral to make before the top. I basically tried my same strategy from the first time, which was also recommended by navi, and I failed miserably. I failed a second time and then checked online, and the walkthrough’s I checked said the same thing, go for the many toes, then hit his head, and do that a bunch of times. I never came close to finishing him that way, but someone did mention using the big vent in the middle of the spiral to launch way up into the air and then aim for his head, land, and hit him before you fall off. I failed at that quite badly, but it did give me an idea… to just go up to the next level up, and drop down on his head. I killed him easily. I was surprised it worked at all, and I still don’t know how I’m supposed to kill him any other way. The third time you fight him he has a few more tricks, but he was easily dispatched with this method. But of course, his final form is what totally stopped the game for me, the final blow I couldn’t get my wiimote to recognise. This plot point was somewhat disappointing, he’s actually the precursor to Ganon. When you beat him, he curses you and Zelda so that as new Links and Zelda’s come and go, they have to fight against an incarnation of his hate. Now, before all this, the series creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, said that though there might be other Link’s and Zelda’s, there’s only ever one Ganon. Which suggests that the incarnation of Demise has survived far more defeats by Link than Demise himself, which is an amusing thought.

But, the story does have its faults, as it involves goddamn time-travel. Seriously? Again? See, Nintendo released the official timeline for the zelda series, and it puts Skyward Sword at the start. This is reminiscent of when AVGN raged about the zelda timeline (before it was officially disclosed), how far can they go back? Link and Zelda as Adam and Eve? It will probably get worse, as in Skyward Sword there are references to an ancient civilization before the current era, and you get to interact with elements from it, meaning there is apparently a huge stretch of time even before this, the first game in the timeline, to set yet another game. But the timeline did at least validate the Splittist position, that the timeline continued down two paths after Ocarina of Time.

Zelda Timeline

No, it’s Hyrule alright, although I can’t imagine Hell being much worse

Wait, what’s this… a third split. From when Link dies in Ocarina of Time? Dies as a kid or adult? And if they can claim that losing the game was a valid outcome, I guess they can split the timelines off each game where you fail to win, even if the game itself doesn’t involve time travel. But unfortunately, this one does… and fucks with the timeline again. So yes, you defeat the ‘final evil’ rather anticlimactically in the ‘present’, but his anti-master sword agent takes Zelda to the past in order to free his master then, since it hasn’t been defeated yet. Clearer thinkers would have used the power of the gods to again defeat Demise once more in the past, but such thinking doesn’t prevail and Link must take Demise on himself. Link prevails (presumably, I couldn’t, but I’ve seen video evidence of an ending). So what timeline do the other games follow, the one where he was defeated easily in the present, or the one where he was defeated with more difficulty in the past? The ending cinematic seems to indicate it’s from the easy defeat, but Demise’s last curse seems to indicate the past. If he was defeated in the past, why the hell did I have to beat him three times in the present time? I feel what would have been better is if Link’s past effort was in fact what imprisoned him in the first place, keeping causality alive. Ugh. Maybe it’s actually splitting from the timeline where Link fails, since that’s the ending I got.

2011-07-08

Alice: Madness Returns

Filed under: General — 19day @ 00:38:59

I just beat this game, and I was struck by how casually buggy it is. None of the bugs I hit were game-breaking, but I don’t think I’ve played a game (and to be fair I don’t play many these days) that was so buggy without actually trying to do things to break it. Take a speedrun for example, people play with game geometry, collision detection, lots of other crap to ‘break’ a game, for the purpose of getting through it as fast as possible. All the things that let them do that would be considered bugs I think, but here I am, playing the game as a normal player, not doing anything crazy, and I get attacked by a non-existent enemy, or bump into invisible blocks. Or worse.

As it is my way, this will be mostly a posting of several criticism, but I’ll say now, it was at least an entertaining game. The storyline was interesting, pretty creepy, the art style while a little disjointed between cinematics and actual game play was at least nice to see, it had some nice references to the first game, and had overall decent game play. It was also quite long I thought, which I guess is getting one’s money’s worth, but my time was limited so the game seemed a little redundant after a while in some sections, but overall the length was probably more than I was hoping for. And one thing I liked was that the game wasn’t all dark and dingy, like I felt some of the first game was. There were some bright and cheerfully lit areas of incredibly creepy imagery, not suitable for children.

But now on to the complaints, which as a QA I seem to focus on anyway. I’ve broken these up into style issue which are totally subjective, then issues which may just be me and my computer, and then bugs that I don’t think are anything to do with me or my computer and are just broken (which may still be about me and my computer, disclaimer). Oh, and this is on the PC version of the game of course. And is meant to be spoiler-free.







Style issues:

Endless collectibles – It seems that games these days are just the first bit that people expect. Then they want the meta games, like achievements for jumping exactly 3284 times in a play through, and of course, collectibles, without which you CANNOT BE SAID TO HAVE BEAT THE GAME, BWAHAHA, oh and also the extra content won’t be unlocked for you, you loser. This isn’t the only game to do this, but it does it in an even more irritating manner. There are several types of collectibles, but one is actually required. Actually, I guess it isn’t required, but I think a lot of the story and foreshadowing of the plot is lost by not collecting them. Which is kind of frustrating.

Sucky combat – The combat in the game is actually kind of fun… at first. It employs a lock-on system, but for other reasons it is a bit irritating to use. Not many enemies are always vulnerable to attack, many employ blocking effects that require some fancy playing about to overcome. Some of the common enemies are a bit like Boss battles in that way, which is fun. Oh, there are a bunch of them, as well as some other enemies that aren’t usually vulnerable flying around. Oh, and a bunch of constantly respawning enemies unless I kill the source of them? And most of these occur within fairly constrained arena areas, purposely locking you into an area forcing you to fight. When I played, I basically had to run around a hell of a lot before locking on to anything, and it was easier to lock-out and lock-on again hoping to acquire the target I wanted, opposed to tabbing around trying to get the right enemy, and half the time it was too late and the very narrow window of opportunity to damage the enemy was over. Even by the end of the game, with the most powerful weapons, enemies introduced in the first couple of sections would still be immune to my heavy attacks until I timed things right. Which is fine until there are a bunch of these guys running around. Further, it’s sometimes hard to tell if you are actually damaging an enemy at all.

Keybindings are painful – So the game controls with standard wasd keys, but then locks on with capslock, switches lock targets with tab, and dodge with left-shift. These are all incredibly crucial things to do in this game, especially dodge, which shoots you forward in whatever direction you are holding when you press it or face. In the heat of battle, moving my left pinky with any reliability was impossible, and I was getting my ass handed to me by minor foes. I eventually rebound Target to my middle mouse button and dodge to middle mouse scrolldown. The scroll was already being used by switching between weapons, and the loss of that was a bit frustrating, but at least now I’d live long enough to care about that. There are also known bugs with Block not being able to be rebound without losing the ability to block entirely (I would have mapped it to middle scroll up if I could), and another ability that has a very short window of opportunity that is permanently bound to the Enter Key for some damned reason. There is another ability you have to use by continually holding left-control that I didn’t remap but by the end my left hand hurt like hell.

Punishing platforming – There is a lot of platforming in this game. The first Alice game had a jump recticle that was a little silly, but made it bearable. This game does not. It gives you some other ways to compensate, which are helpful, but there are still a hell of a lot of jumps (some levels have no enemies, just a lot of platforming), and a lot of bottomless pits. The game is sort of generous in that when you fall to your death, it respawns you on a nearby ledge. It’s not a quick load as anything you had done or collected stays that way, it just respawns you. But this just means the designers felt free to make this platforming as irritating as they could, and with my stuttering issues (see below) this became infuriating.

No save – There is no way to actually save your game at will. The game saves itself as you go, but the little indicator that shows you this is easy to miss I found, and it still is a punishment to want to play for a bit and then need to quit, but losing your progress since you didn’t go far enough in the level for it to save for you. Also there is no quicksave feature, which means that tricky fights or jumps will set you back if you fail. Of course, with the death plummets, the auto respawn one would think that it wouldn’t be so bad, and most of the time it isn’t. However, sometimes the designers decide that the checkpoint to return to after a failed jump should be way back instead of what I felt was a more fair mid-area platform. And for slides, you screw those up, and you go back to the top. Oh yeah, and the respawn maintains all state, including health, so you go down slides over and over, taking little bits of damage, falling, and then starting again. Will I die this time? arrg.







Style issues with spoilers (skip this if so desired)

Bosses – That is, the lack of them. Where’d they go? Sure, in the first game they weren’t spread out particularly evenly, but there was a lot of them. Duchess, Centipede, Tweedles, Jabberwock, Mad Hatter, Red King, and the Queen of Hearts herself. The sequel? Just the end boss. And they seem to deliberately tease you with boss battles that seem to be gearing up, oh, and then there’s a cutscene that deals with it and off you go. It reminds me of Evil Dead: Hail to the King, where there was a cutscene of your dismembered hand (possessed by the protagonist now) entering an evil hole in the wall to fetch something. It was gearing up for a level… oh, another cutscene, the hand is back with the fetchquest item. There was even dialog about the things the protagonist ’saw’ while in there. A lot of this game felt like that, especially with the bosses.

Motivation – Where the hell am I going? Why am I doing this? In the first game, it was clear that the queen was the evil force to deal with. It started with more immediate concerns, getting small to follow rabbit (this is especially galling in the sequel, you can now be small at any time. Except, when it does shrink you down to have the requisite tiny-level, where you can still turn yet smaller… what?), and you have to find the elder, who takes you to the fortress of doors, into the skool, makes the potion and sends you on your way. It was a subsection of plot, but you knew that the queen, from the opening dialog with the slaves, that was the enemy. I guess in the sequel you know the enemy is a train, but even then, you’re just flitting across wonderland, doing this or that, and it doesn’t seem like any of it is actually bringing you to your goal. It’s just some stuff that happens on the way.

Missing Content – This goes back to the bosses, but it seems it was more rampant than that. Looking at some of the game progress trailers, it looked like there was meant to be more stuff, more things to do, more levels, more weapons (Alice had 9, not all of them great, but still. This game, 4. Well, there is a 5th but I could never use it in the heat of battle. And a 6th perhaps, but I’d call it more of an ability). And the weapons are nearly, but not quite, the equivalent of light punch, light kick, heavy punch, heavy kick. There is a bit more to it than that, which is actually annoying since you have to whip out the other weapon to do something when you wish you could just keep the heavy out. The game has some unlockable content, and I managed to unlock some character models, and it shows a host of enemies and a few things I think were going to be bosses that never made it to the game. Which is unfortunate, since there are very few unique enemies to fight. I don’t think more than the first game. Some of the new enemies are nearly boss battles in themselves, which is a change from the first, and was entertaining enough, but also frustrating with the combat system. In any case, it’s sort of a retroactive sadness. I definitely felt that the bosses were missing before looking into what was cut, but now, I wonder what the game would have been with all it’s combatants, weapons, and planned levels intact.







Issues that might be my computer:

Stuttering – The game was nearly unplayable when I started. Almost everywhere I went the game would stutter the display for seconds at a time. Oh, the engine would still be running, and I would die or something due to something I couldn’t see in time. Even respawning after death would cause terrible stuttering during the animation. This doesn’t seem that common, but it wasn’t unheard of. I found some advice that had me alter FPS constraint settings not exposed in the UI and make the file read-only to keep the game from reverting it, and it was mostly okay after that, but stuttering and display lag would still come up at bad times. The slides throughout the game have damaging slime on them. The slime itself is difficult to avoid I found (hit detection seemed wonky), but since takes you from one set of level to another set, whatever it is that causes it to stutter does so quite a lot, on the slide, and usually I regain display long enough to see me fly off the edge and die, and respawn, rinse repeat. And it’s not like the thing that causes the stuttering is one time… with the slides, since I restart at the top, I ‘pass through’ the stutter at the same points as well. One slide I had to try like ten times due to this issue. I looked up my video card’s suggested settings for the game, and mine were already set to lower than that. I also tried turning all the fancy shit off, and it still happened. Oh well. I jacked everything back up to see it pretty, if occasionally racked with hiccups.

Infinite Install – well, clearly not infinite, but 30 minutes to install a game might seem like it.

Fade to Dark – Throughout the game, the screen fades to black as things happen. At least, I think that’s what it wants to do. I found it fading to dark, but I’d still be able to see stuff, like Alice drifing off through the geometry, or returning to ‘game play’ mode between an in-game cinematic and a movie one. It looks broken every time it happens, and it happened a lot. The only thing I can figure is that since I jacked up the gamma a little bit (not a lot even, the game isn’t that dark to begin with) that it failed to compensate for that during the fade effect.

Blurry signs – There are a few regions in the game with readable signs, and from midrange they appeared to me to be a smudge of crap, then up close, a slightly sharper smudged text that was barely legible. Why even have the signs if this is the best it can do? I didn’t see any texture quality settings in the config UI.

Generic Graphical Glitches – I don’t know if these are just me or what. But occasionally when I tell it to pull a lever or a chain, the hands don’t actually line up with what’s going on. But it should, the game takes control and these actions are basically in-game cinematics. Also happens sometimes with the weapons, where the object is slightly out of alignment with where she is actually holding them. Lastly is her hair, it seems to tangle and twist all over like snakes, it’s actually a little disconcerting. I don’t think that was on purpose. Other fun thing is the way her dress and hair moves when you face, for example forward, and then press back, since she turns around instantly, and I guess the game’s physics is like, okay, so she had to have rotated in less than a millisecond, and the physics do the rest, which doesn’t exactly look great, but it’s not too noticeable.







Issues that I think are just the game (Bugs):

Camera Obscura – The camera in general is pretty frustrating. I find it swings around a little weird using the mouse, I could never figure out what to change to make it better. The worst though is when it suddenly turns into a fixed camera, and all my direction keys change meaning. The most horrid part of this is pressure pads that are used throughout the game. You can place temporary pad-pressers, and then have to do whatever you have to do very quickly before the effect stops. However, every time you step on a pad, it fixes the camera to show you the effect of stepping on the pad (even if you’ve already seen it) and it wastes about a fifth of your time while you try to run (sometimes outside of the view of the camera) to get to where you need to go. This, this is shit. It was only later that I realize that if I step on the pad, let it show me, then place the pad-presser, then I don’t have to deal with that. Oh, unless I have to trigger multiple pads. Sigh.

Enemy Ghosts – No, not ghost enemies, but enemies that are in fact ghosts. This guy saw it too, I hit it at the same spot, and a few others as well. It seems to occur when you kill enemies from some distance away, before they are ‘aware’ of the player. Which is exactly the way you’d be likely to try to dispatch these guys. I found that the ghosts can’t be attacked or attack you, but they can grab you (the ones that have that action). Eventually they vanish.

Suicidal Encounters – This may be another example of Enemy Ghosts, but I don’t think it was. There was a large encounter with several enemies. One of the frustrating enemies remained, that blocked all the time so it didn’t die from my barrage at the others. I target it and begin to attack, but then suddenly a cinematic where it opens up the next area, then back to my view, and the enemy is gone and the battle music abruptly stops. What the hell?

Endless Encounters – This was the most frustrating ones. I was in a section where it locked off the area into an arena and had some enemies come at me, two of them. I dispatch them easily. The music continues… I wonder around, no more enemies. I can’t move on or back since the area is sealed. I wonder around for a few minutes, and have to give up and quit the game back to the menu and reload. I go back into the area, and kill the two enemies, ah, two more now spawn, I kill them, and can move on. I did some looking around, and I’m not the only one to have encountered this issue at this point. Some are apparently stuck there since they can’t get the enemies to ever spawn. Now that’s a crappy player experience.

Premature Encounters – I admit it, I’m cautious, and it seems a few areas I was meant to enter at speed. When I walked up (not slowly, just not immediately jumping into the new areas) it triggered an encounter way off on the far side of whatever pit was there. Then as the enemies cluster around trying to figure out how to reach me, I pick them off from afar.

Locked On All the way Down – This one I think is pretty inexcusable since it comes up so often. There are some enemies that fly, you shoot them, then fall down, you finish them off. However, if you lock on, and shoot them when they are over a bottomless pit (and they are fucking everywhere) they fall, into the abyss, and you stay locked on. Maybe forever, not sure. They don’t seem to come back, and I had to disengage the lock to continue battles, but if they fell to their deaths (or simply fell to not being able to do anything after that, certainly in arena areas it seems to unlock the doors anyway) why stay locked on? This comes up a lot because these are FLYING enemies in a world almost entirely filled with BOTTOMLESS PITS. Dear lord.

Always Move Forward – This one comes up a lot as well, not sure exactly what triggers it, but I think it might be the levels that are divided by small cinematics. I found that on the load of the next level, I’d be running forward into the next pit or whatever. It turns out the game thought I was still holding the W key. I’d have to press it again to make it wake up and realize what the deal was. This happened with other directions as well. But since I’d usually be holding the key to move forward into the next section, it was often the effect of being out of control running forward.

Standing on Nothing – This happened a few times while doing the painful platforming. I’d miss the ledge I was aiming for and fall down, onto geometry that I wasn’t meant to be on. Sometimes it would just slow my fall to doom, other times it would actually stop me. I couldn’t proceed since I was still stuck in ‘falling’ animation and couldn’t jump, but I could just relax there, in limbo, until I felt like dying.

Bumping into Nothing – There are points in the game, far far too many points, where you have to fetch boxes (essentially). You collect the box and it vanishes. But I’d often find my path forward to be where the box was, and I’d continue to bump into the invisible box. After a while it would go away, but this was a little frustrating. I’ve heard of some issues elsewhere where firetraps and spike-traps, though disabled and appearing to be ‘off’ would still kill you, this sounds related.

Spawn Forward – This is actually a helpful bug, but still a bug. A number of times there would be some difficult far jump, and I would miss, but still be close enough that when it respawned me, it respawned me on the destination platform. I used this on purpose a few times when I didn’t feel like doing things properly, it’s basically a cheat. It also can trigger enemy encounters, so you respawn from your bottomless pit death, then get brained by an enemy in the confusion.

Get Stuck and Die – There are stylized levels in the game, sort of mini-games, but required to proceed. Normally when you die within them, it kicks you back to your nearest in-minigame checkpoint just like in the usual game. However, at one point, I somehow got wedged somewhere, I was still able to jump, but not move left or right, and then not even jump. I was there for a few seconds, thinking I’d have to abandon the area and reload from my last autosave checkpoint, when the game must have had stupid-detection and killed me. Yay, … wait, what’s this, I’m out of the minigame? I have to do it all over again? Why not start of my last checkpoint? I guess the code has two paths for death, normal death, and cover-your-ass death that takes you back to the autosave instead of the internal checkpoint. Frustrating none the less.

UI scatter – This one is pretty minor, but in the game’s weapon menu, the UI scatters one of the graphics elsewhere for apparently no reason. It has no impact to the game, but looks bad. This might just be me, but I can’t imagine why.

Horse Statue – There are characters in the game, most memorably a horse, solid as a statue, and looks out of place, considering most other prob-entities have idle animations. This isn’t as nitpicky as it sounds. The Horse was sitting out in a fairly prominent spot, and it really ’stood out’ by the way it just… stood.

Equip Failure – My preferred equipped weapons revert to defaults at certain types of level loading. I normally discover this at my next enemy encounter, sadly.

Cursor issue – not sure what caused it, but when I paused the game and the menus appeared, returning to game play brought the menu cursor along. Had to quit to get rid of the distraction. It has happened a couple of times in my experience.

Crates immune to gunfire – After a while you realize that the ‘crates’ around the world contain mostly good things, but occasionally spawn an enemy, and of the kind it’s hard to notice is there until you’ve lost some life. I started taking to shooting crates with a ranged weapon, and found that every now and then, one would be ‘indestructible’. That is, my shots would merely hit the side and stop. Not actually impact because there was another effect that made impacts clear. It’s as if the shots just stopped. Attacking the crates via melee weapons always worked, and eventually just did that the rest of the game.

Port Artifacts – So given the save system, I assume this is a port of the Xbox version or something. At one point in the game, it tells me to hold X to do something. I was confused, why X? I didn’t have anything bound to X to my knowledge. I pressed it. Nothing. Then I start pressing my other bound keys, until I tried Spacebar and that works. Then I look at the instruction more closely, it looked like a playstation button X or something.

Black Textures – Saw this reported elsewhere so guess it’s not just me. But on one level, a bunch of textures were solid black. Like, obvious textures, like on things you had to interact with. It’s consistent as well.

Forever locked content: I didn’t 100% the game, but it claims I 97% it. Then why is tonnes of the unlockable content still locked? The internets claim that due to cuts, it is impossible to actually unlock everything in the released product. Other sources say you need to 100% a chapter to get any content from there. Not sure on this one.

Cccrrreeedddiiitttsss – This is getting nitpicky, but I just let the credits roll after the semi-satisfying ending, and the music was over before they were done. Long over. Like the music only lasted for 10% of the credits. Oh, and the credits go on for freaking ever, and thanked EA all over the world.






Those are the ones I’ve encountered. Looking around online, like on youtube, shows people encountered bugs I didn’t even see. And this was me just trying to play the game, I wasn’t trying to find problems. As a QA, I can see how some of these might have gone. The release date is coming up (or possibly already passed and pushed back), and you find a bug where there are enemy ghosts. Does it always happen? No, and even when it does, you can move on most of the time. Fuck it, ship it. And even then, if it seemed back, hell, slip a fix into a future patch. Done and done. Which is fair enough I suppose, and despite the bugs I encountered I was still able to play the game (by far the worst one was the stuttering, and I don’t know if it’s the game’s fault, or my own computer), and it was still an enjoyable game.

But I guess I just can’t escape the mindset of a QA. Or a cynical old bastard. Happy birthday to me.

2011-01-01

2011

Filed under: General — 19day @ 00:00:25

Another new year.

What is left to say?

2010-11-23

Start something?

Filed under: General — 19day @ 21:50:00

Alesse has these posters around the subway. “Start something with Alesse”.

Am I the only one who finds this campaign a bit… off?

2010-07-20

Two Monitors Means Twice the Replacement Cost

Filed under: General — 19day @ 22:03:06

So not very long ago I got dual monitors going on my system. And very shortly ago, one decided to die on me.

What it did was occasionally not wake up from sleep mode, and when I told it not to ever sleep again, that kept it going for a while, but I turned it off one morning, and when I came home, it wouldn’t turn on again. Alas, it was the first of the dual monitors, and maybe it was its time.

But now it appears the time has come again.

stupid monitor

This normally is a solid colour, but my monitor has decided to liven it up a bit

It first happened when I alt-tabbed out of Half Life, which I had just bought. I thought maybe my graphics card was starting to pooch itself. But the problem doesn’t show up in screenshots, and the second monitor wasn’t affected. Further, taking the DVI cable out of the affected monitor and putting it into the second and switching source shows no issue. So I’m willing to think, hopefully, for the moment, that it’s not my video card dying, but somehow the monitor.

Once bit of evidence against is that the OSD for the bad monitor looks fine, but it still could be an issue between the moment the DVI signal arrives, and when it gets turned into a picture.

After a while when I first saw this, it just went away. Then it happened again when I locked my computer, went to work, came home, still was happening, and then went away moments after taking the above picture.

I might just swap the monitors cables if it happens again, since I’m hoping whatever ails the DVI mode hasn’t affected the VGA. But if it is the monitor, then that’s the second time in as many months I’ve had to replace one.

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2010-07-14

Feedback

Filed under: General — 19day @ 19:34:37

Am I wrong for thinking this is hilarious? It appeals to my tech side like the ones where people processed a video a bunch of times on youtube, or an mp3 a bunch of times to see what the artifacts are. It also appeals to my sense of timing where it goes on longer than you think, and the hesitation between each round just makes it funnier.

Shreeeeeeeeeek

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