Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
29 April 2008
GTA4 lockups: what did reviewers play?
I let my 60Gb PS3 install GTA4 tonight while I fixed dinner. When I checked on it later, it had run through the intro and locked up after giving control over to the player. (I wasn't there, so I didn't see it happen.) Apparently lockups are happening with some regularity to a lot of players and not just on PS3.

The whole situation reminds me of how Champions of Norrath on the PS2 locked up for a fair number of consumers, but no reviewers mentioned it. Seemed odd to me at the time and I did some asking around to find out why.

Turns out reviewers didn't review the same kind of disc sold in stores. One reviewer told me he reviewed Champs o' Norrath on two single-layer DVDs as opposed to the dual-layer DVDs sold to us commoners.

Makes me wonder if the same thing happened here. The reviews are pretty much all pegging the 10 on the review-o-meter, but I haven't heard about the reviews talking about lockups like folks are seeing on normal systems. If I had the time, I'd start asking around -- someone should.

Meanwhile, I hard reset my PS3 and played about 15 minutes up to the first save point. So far so good. Now if I only had time to play more, but real life has me elsewhere. Ah well.

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--Matt Matthews at 21:21
Comment [ 5 ]

27 April 2008
Ludicrous Ludology
From Ruffin below:
This pseudo-academic tripe gives every ludologist a bad name.


Without disagreeing with Ruffin on this point (see End of the World predictions in comments to that post), I fear that most people who've heard the word think that ludology is by definition "pseudo-academic tripe".

I solicit your considered opinions: should there be ludology (or, if you think that's too high-falutin' a term, "game studies" or "game analysis" or "game commentary and criticism")? If it isn't tripe, what is it? What makes good ludology? Is it essentially the same as movie criticism for games? Or is it mathematical "game theory" applied to real games?

I'm sure there's commentary about this throughout the web (ludology.org as well as gamasutra spring to mind), but they're a bunch of yahoos. What do the curmudgeons think?

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--Bob Wieman at 09:02
Comment [ 2 ]

Hidden message in Metal Gear Online! (not really)
This help screen for entering your avatar's name in Metal Gear Online is surely a cryptic hint to the mysteries of Metal Gear Solid 4.
Or it could just be weird programming or some dirty words I never learned. Still, made me laugh.

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--Matt Matthews at 00:13
Comment [ 0 ]

25 April 2008
Review: Impossible Mission (NDS)
I just finished a game I never finished almost a quarter century ago: Impossible Mission. My original experience was with a pirated copy (yes, pirated) on the Commodore 64. I just finished it on the Nintendo DS. Frankly, it's a little depressing.

Here's the gist of the game: collect pieces of punchcard keys from rooms guarded by lethal robots and then make it to a special room to stop a nuclear weapon launch. You can run, jump, search for keys, and use the computer terminals to reset lifts and disable the robots temporarily.

First, the very fact that this game is still being sold -- practically unchanged -- is alarming. I understand nostalgia, it's my personal excuse for playing this game, but how can this game be on store shelves in this day and age? My guess is that it's just simple enough to appeal to the casual Nintendo DS player. After all, the game involves only a few platform-mechanics in several barely-randomized rooms and some 30-odd puzzle pieces to find.

Second, the game is easier for everyone now because you can save at practically any moment and then reload later. Messed up a jump and lost 10 minutes off the countdown? No problem. Reload that save and it's like it never happened. You can (and I did) save-crawl the game to completion.

Additionally, the only novelty aside from the save game option, is a set of improved graphics. Purely cosmetic. The game even offers the option of playing with the original 8-bit graphics, which are strikingly neon-looking. I guess I've become accustomed to "realistic" graphics after all this time.

Finally, after all these years, I'm disappointed in the end-sequence. I thought there might be something significant to facing the madman, but here it's just a cut scene. SPOILER: He presses the button to launch the missile and you press another one to stop it. What drama! END SPOILER.

For $10, Impossible Mission for the Nintendo DS isn't bad. I'll settle for the comfort of striking this title off my list of uncompleted games.

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--Matt Matthews at 13:18
Comment [ 1 ]

23 April 2008
Echochrome and the hobbled PSP
I'm getting echochrome tomorrow. Reading the Sony blog about it, I continue to be amazed at garbage like this:
And for the PSP version, you can share the levels you create with other people in your area via wireless Ad Hoc. Cool, right?!?
Sorry, Sony, but Game 3.0 -- your word, not mine -- was really supposed to be about sharing your work YouTube-like. No one gives a flying flip about sharing data via ad hod wireless. No one.

Instead of insulting our intelligence, how about spend more time implementing a serious network service for the PSP? It's just embarrassing, three years after you launch a fine piece of hardware like the PSP, to still be stumbling on something so simple as this.

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--Matt Matthews at 20:35
Comment [ 4 ]

21 April 2008
Gamasutra, don't BS me with RPGs, please
From Gamasutra:

In classic role playing game (RPG) design, there are commonly three primary character archetypes: tank, DPS ("Damage Per Second"), and healer. These archetypes have their roots in old-school pen and paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, and were carried forward into early single player RPGs like Ultima and then into MMOs.


I sure love when somebody looks at the state of things now, mentions a few precursors, and then writes some revisionist history, 1984 style. We have always been at war with Eurasia, as Matt likes to say.

What absolute bunk. What archetype is the ninja-jester-lumberjack from Ultima, again? And thieves in D&D and AD&D didn't exactly work like rogues and druid cat form in WoW today. There was no sustained "DPS". These alternative classes, even races, performed alternative tasks. Can we find a secret door? Call the elf. Lost underground? Hello, dwarf. Need to pick a lock? Call the thief. But when it was melee time, did the thief stick around? Heck no; s/he RAN. There were similar issues -- protect the magic-user squishie, bring in the cleric to heal the ranger, etc -- but these don't feel like they do in WoW. To heal in D&D, you had to back out of battle and head someplace safe. In WoW, in contrast, the healer is constantly dropping spells. And what's the difference between an elf and a Tauren druid? Hrm, one stomps and the other can make itself invisible when it's drinking to restore mana. Oh yea, and one's a cow. What completely different playstyles!!!

Let me put it more succinctly. There was no "threat" in D&D. Threat is, in a nutshell, the formula that makes monsters in WoW keep attacking whatever has caused them the most damage. If your tank keeps wailing, your warlock can keep railing. You have to be careful not to out-damage a monster if you're not a tank, else the monster makes a beeline for you. Keep your damage below the tanks' (again, oversimplification, but it's close), and it's as if you don't exist. Dungeon Masters tended to be a little less, well, formulaic.

Let me add to my succinctness... There were no quests in D&D. Oh sure, you had something random driving the plot, but tell me which one has a better, more memorable plot, Blackrock Depths or Ravenloft (and here I mean I6 in particular)? Why is that, exactly?

The difference between D&D and WoW is that the first is wide open. WoW doesn't copy archetypes; it's D&D on rails. WoW dumbs down role-playing to the point that it's more checkboxes than imagination (see my last post on plot again).

Ultima Online is much closer to D&D than WoW. There's no real class structure at all, which is what I was getting at by referencing the ever-popular "ninja-jester-lumberjack" crack from Worst Ninja's UO log. Obviously this gamasutra author, Mr. Hopson, is more interested in furthering WoW-specific commentary than treating each game on its on terms.

In any event, there was never any "difficult to design" hybrid issue for D&D. The players made hybrids out of every class to a degree. It's called role playing. That someone could now re-imagine D&D as such a close cousin of WoW should frighten those that like the "RP" in MMORPG. What a bunch of bunk.

(The "economic model" approach to party dynamics was about as impressive as the early statement I lambast, above. I'd be more interested in hearing how party dynamics and character creation follows the food pyramid. It'd be original, at least. OH, wow, everything works like money?!! Are you kidding me? This pseudo-academic tripe gives every ludologist a bad name.)

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--ruffin at 17:27
Comment [ 9 ]

19 April 2008
EVE Online expansion based on a novel, an Elite idea.
This from an interview on the WarCry Network about EVE Online's expansion:

The title of the next expansion - revealed here for the first time - will be 'The Empyrean Age,' the same as the EVE novel by Tony Gonzalez also slated for the summer. The reason is simple, this is the first EVE Online expansion where the story of the game and its universe will play a key role, a lot of it based off the novel.


That sound familiar? How about The Dark Wheel, released with Braben & Bell's Elite years ago. I'm not sure if I've ever read all of mine (though you can read it all right here), but it was in there to try and create a little plot to go with the randomly created planet names.

I've always wondered about plot in MMORPGs. In WoW, there's really no requirement to understand the plot of your quests nor does Blizzard create the quests so that you have to learn it, which bugs me. "Why am I killing X of Y and giving you N Zs from their loot, again?" In UO, you were, for the most part, supposed to create your own. I hope EVE pulls it off, even if you don't bother to read the latest scifi space trading [almost] pack-in novel.

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--ruffin at 20:43
Comment [ 0 ]

18 April 2008
Words You Are Not Allowed To Use In Your Game
Including all cognates, and especially if it's a fantasy of science fiction game. No exceptions except as given.

Corruption

Tainted

Chaos (RPGs may use "chaotic" to refer to alignment only)

Darkness

Genetic

Evolution

Memory

Absolution

In the title, all pretentious musical terminology, for example:
Rondo

And last, but most especially:
Sephiroth

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--John Harris at 10:35
Comment [ 3 ]

14 April 2008
Karoshi 1 & 2
I don't laugh out loud at games very often, but I laughed pretty heartily at several of the levels in this pair of games, Karoshi and Karoshi 2.0.

Hints: the mouse can be used on some levels (look for your mouse pointer to become visible) and you will have to think outside the normal rules of games in several cases. Way outside.

I got through the first one no problem. Some of the stuff in 2.0 is just wicked, so here are some hints.

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--Matt Matthews at 22:28
Comment [ 0 ]

08 April 2008
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection (Wii version)
Having been disappointed by the previous entry in the series, the Gottlieb Pinball Hall of Fame, mostly because the included games didn't click with me, this one was bound to be a winner. Williams pinballs just seemed deeper than Gottleib pinball tables from similar years. Overall, the new package is extremely good, possibly the best collection of virtual pinball tables on the market. The package falls short of perfection in a couple of areas, but that doesn't tarnish much of the sheer awesomeness to be found on this disk unless you're an enthusiast.

Just to get the issues about tables that are "exclusive" to one system or another out of the way, these are the games in the Wii version: Black Knight, Firepower, Funhouse, Gorgar, Pin*Bot, Space Shuttle, Taxi, Whirlwind, Jive Time and Sorcerer.

They are all unlocked at first, but only some are available in "free play." A new file begins with 20 tokens, and more are earned for earning replays and specials, making matches after games, and completing "challenges," special tasks available on each board. Playing a non-free table costs one token per game, per player. Unlocking a table for freeplay costs 100. It sounds restrictive, but enough good tables are free to start with, and enough tokens are granted for completing challenges (many of which are harder to avoid earning), that even terrible players should have plenty of tokens. Further, completing all the basic challenges on a table awards one freeplay unlock on the table of the player's chosing, as well as making available a special set of harder, "wizard" challenges.

The games, as mentioned, are much more interesting to us from a gameplay standpoint, as opposed to just historical interest, than the Gottlieb collection. In particular, four of the tables, Pin*Bot, Taxi, Whirlwind and Funhouse, came at the lead-end of the 90s pinball boom. Whirlwind and Funhouse were both designed by the designer of classic games Addams Family Pinball and Twilight Zone (and they show -- Pat Lawlor many certain trademark ideas from these tables in lots of his other games). Funhouse in particular is a gem, showing off a lot of the panache with which Bally/Williams pinball would use to win over players a couple of years later. Whirlwind's infamous spinning sandpaper disks are just as maddening, but not moreso, as on a real table, and that's an accomplishment. Many of the other games are also entertaining in their way, mostly except for Jive Time, which doesn't hold up well for players who grew up playing 90s pinball.

Best of all, the play itself seems to be scrupulously accurate. The game somehow avoids falling prey to the problem that nearly all video pinball suffers from, namely, that some shots are pretty much impossible to make because pinball relies on timing more strict than the game's framerate, meaning that some shots cannot be made when the ball comes down a flipper inlane because its velocity isn't synced right with the frame rate to enable those shots to be made. Well that might not be totally accurate, but that's how I conceptualize the problem; the result is that , in many other games, some shots that should be easy are maddeningly difficult when they shouldn't be. The emulation in this package is exceptionally good about this, meaning I was able to hit both the center ramp in Whirlwind and the Extra Ball target from the left inlane, two shots that are separated on the board by just a wall. That kind of fidelity to player timing would be above the call of duty in any other game, but in a package of pinball tables, it's downright essential.

That's the good, and what a lot of it there is. But there's still some bad to get out there. Let's get it over with.

Wii controls. Overall the flipper controls, using the triggers on the Nunchuck and the Wii Remote, are very good. By letting the player control one button with each hand, the game feels that much closer to real pinball. Motion controls, on the other hand, are a bit iffier. Players used to moving their hands as they play Wii games will have to be careful not to accidentally nudge the table as they play! I have yet to accidentally tilt the machine, but neither have I successfully been able to use a nudge in a way that feels analogous to shoving a real table. It's a great idea, but the technology isn't there yet.

Ball jumping. Twice I've managed, somehow, to cause the ball to skip through the playfield wall that leads to the flipper, sending it directly down into the drain. It's true that one of the times the ball had enough horizontal momentum that it skipped right up the outlane and back out onto the playfield (!), but it was still disconcerting. It may have done with one of those accidental nudges I mentioned, but unless there was an earthquake I fail to see how the ball could completely jump a wall like that in real life.

Incomplete respect paid to the tables. Yeah, hard to believe I'm leveling this charge.
And for the most part, the play is great. But for before the game starts, and after it finishes, the software doesn't care at all. Some of these games have somewhat entertaining attract modes, match displays and high score entry routines, but for some bizarre reason the developers figured they'd use their own super-lame UI elements for all these things. This is most shameful in Funhouse, which does play the High Score music and even plays the game's victory lightshow in time with it behind the ugly initial entry window, but leaves out such details as Rudy's congratulations to the player, and kills the Game Over music and lightshow dead in favor of the game's painfully generic rock soundtrack the moment play ends. The failure to use the games' own match routines and displays, in favor of a stupid little stop-the-number minigame, is particularly galling. Yeah, there's an aspect of Get Off My Lawn-ism in my complaints here, but for a package that seemingly prides itself on fidelity, and takes its name from the ever-lovin', blue-eyed Pinball Hall of Fame, to neglect something like this is kind of shameful.

But most players, I suspect, won't care about those things. The fact remains that this may be the best pinball compilation ever made. It's amazing, but in nearly all cases, tables made specifically for video pinball turn out to be so much worse than those based off of real tables. This collection is just about the best you can get without spending a month's pay getting a physical machine... or resorting to less-than-legal means.

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--John Harris at 00:58
Comment [ 3 ]

02 April 2008
Collecting sickness gone mad (or: Demo discs!)
Well, I've finally done it. I've officially started collecting demo discs.

I've always had a few demo discs around. For example, that's the only way I could play Intelligent Qube for years. (Cue people asking me for an Intelligent Qube ISO...) And my wife nearly killed me when I played the Parappa the Rapper demo for ages. I also picked up the Official PlayStation Magazine demo of Tomb Raider: Legend within the past couple of years.

But now they've gone beyond utility into that bizarre realm of "neat artifacts I'd like to buy just to own". Oh boy. This is like label variations of Atari 2600 games all over again.

Here's the best source of data I've found on them. I even made a spreadsheet of the PS2 demos so I could keep track of mine. I have 13 ... out of over 400 listed on this page. At least I'll have something to keep me busy. I also have 3 PS1 demo discs and a handful of PSP demo UMDs.

Incidentally, there is competition out there for these. On a lark, I bid $18 on a lot of 41 demo discs the other day on eBay. The final bid was $38 or so. Yow.

Anyway, if you've got some you'd like to ditch, give me a holler.

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--Matt Matthews at 08:55
Comment [ 2 ]

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