Thursday, June 26, 2008

Monsters In My Pocket?

In the past three days, I have been playing a game from a franchise that I thought I was done with. I haven't played a game (or this one, for that matter) in this franchise for a few years and while new installments have released I haven't played those either and honestly didn't really intend to.

What is this franchise and more importantly, game? Pokemon Ruby.

Yes Pokemon, of all games, is the game I have been playing again recently. The reason for it is simple, due to my typical achievement whore ways I was making progress towards some achievements in Perfect Dark Zero (1k Deathmatches and 1k Dark Ops games played) and due to it being boring as hell, I needed to find something to do to help pass the time. Unfortunately for me I can't do picture-in-picture on my TV so I can't watch TV while doing the mundane whoring, so that left the options of either reading or playing the DS. As I have to press start every 40 seconds or so on the 360 controller, I opted against reading because of it being constantly interrupted so that left just the DS.

My DS doesn't get much play unfortunately and that is because I am done with the games I own for it. Until I get more, the handheld will continue to be neglected so with this in mind I had no idea what to play. That was until I looked through my Gameboy Advance collection. I contemplated playing Golden Sun, Metroid Fusion, Mario Kart: Super Circuit and other GBA titles and perhaps I will return to them at some point too as they are awesome games, but I eventually decided on Pokemon Ruby. I can tell you that it was a surprise to see myself enjoying the game again and three days later, I can safely say that I think I am addicted again.

Back in my school days I was a Pokemon fan just like most were; My love for the games begun with Blue, Red and Yellow and continued well into the Silver/Gold period. In fact I still maintain that Silver is one of my favourite games of all time. Anyway with the release of Ruby/Sapphire, I again played through the games and enjoyed it but at the same time I started to realise that I wasn't enjoying it as much as I used to. Doing basically the same thing again and again in the games got a bit tedious for me after a while I guess and eventually I just got bored with the franchise. I never thought the games were bad but they just weren't for me anymore either.

Fast forward to now and the old spark is back and if me playing it for 7 hours over the past few days is any indication, then I can definitely say I am addicted once more to the act of catching them all. It has been great catching the various Pokemon, training them and of course beating the Gyms again and I look forward to doing more of it in the near future. Even when I finish my mundane whoring of Perfect Dark's achievements, I can still see myself playing Pokemon Ruby until it is finished. As a completionist, finished will most likely mean a fully fleshed out Pokedex so with any luck I can manage it. Of course, there's those rare Pokemon that might be hard to collect (especially now) so maybe I will have to settle for a close to finished Pokedex and leave it at that. I would be fine with that actually despite my desire to 100% everything. Playing Ruby has made me want to try the DS versions (Diamond/Pearl) so when I get some money I think I might buy those games. Thanks to their online ability, a complete Pokedex in those games seems a lot more plausible than one in Ruby so we'll see.

Naturally, I will blog about the purchases if and when they happen, what I think of the games and other things like that. In the meantime I am going to continue my quest through Ruby and will update my progress on here soon. Speaking of progress, I have another Metal Gear Solid 2 update on the way as well. I have played it some more but because I'm lazy, I haven't posted about it on here. Blame The Wire, or something. The Wire > you.

Now, where's that Mudkip of mine?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Ups And Downs Of Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero is one hell of a game to master.

I mean seriously, to be able to beat the highest difficulty level, Expert and play it consistently takes a lot of practise and dedication to the game. While I am yet to experience it personally, I can only imagine the satisfaction one would gain from finally beating the difficulty level.

It seems somewhat ironic, then, that the majority of the people who play the game will probably only beat the Medium difficulty level during their entire playing time with the games. I guess that's the beauty of Guitar Hero though; Not only is it one of the most accessible games out there, or even the most appealing, it also happens to be a gamer's game in the sense that it takes utmost skill and dedication to master the game, play it consistently on the highest difficulty and break out those high scores.

Many games in the past have had this similar approach to design - easy to get into but extremely difficult to master - and it's something long term gamers have been frustrated with yet have loved for ages. As I said before, the satisfaction of being able to master a game and achieve a high score is second to none and it's a feeling that is unique to the gaming medium. The fact that games like Guitar Hero, which appeal to almost anyone thanks to its idea of pretending to be a rockstar, can open up these types of games to new audiences and therefore allow the potential for these people to experience this feeling unique to the medium is definitely a good thing.

That's a subject for another day though. As someone who has been playing games for years and as one who is experienced with mastering various games to achieve a high and successful outcome, I only seem to feel disappointment whenever I think about the current progress I have made with Guitar Hero so far.

As a completionist, my goal with the game was to be able to beat it on the highest difficulty, Expert and then perhaps slightly improve my skills after that so I could work on some high scores and perhaps 5-star every song. The latter isn't important and has more to do with my desire to obtain as many achievements as possible, but the former goal of beating the highest difficulty is one I am determined to meet one day and at the moment, it seems like an eternity away.

Currently, I can play Medium consistently. If I don't 100% a song on medium, then I will come damn close hitting anywhere between the 93-99% range each and every time. From what I can gather from other people's experiences with the game, once you can play consistently like that within a difficulty then it is time for you to move up to the next one and become consistent in that. So naturally, I am now trying to play on the Hard difficulty and wow, it's just a whole new ball game. The first and obvious hurdle is the introduction of the fifth and final fret, the orange. Playing Guitar Hero seems to be about training (and strengthening) your fingers for various tasks at the the varying difficulties. Going from Easy to Medium, it's about training yourself to use your pinky finger to press the fourth fret (blue) after being used to only using three fingers before it (index, middle and ring). Going from Medium to Hard means that you then have to teach yourself to either stretch your pinky out and alternate between pressing the blue or orange frets depending on what notes are coming at that time, move your fingers down one note and learn how to alternate your index finger between the first and second (green and red) frets, or move your fingers up and down the fret board dependent on how the note patterns are during the song.

Using the latter, you would have to train your fingers to press the buttons they are already used to as well as the others depending on where your fingers were at the time, as well as teach your brain to recognise the colours and notes on screen and to then use the right finger at the right time again depending on where your fingers were at the time. Using one of the other methods, it would be about strengthening your choice of finger (index or pinky) until you could stretch it to play the extra note you need to. Stretching one of your fingers sounds a lot easier than the complicated learning process of moving your hand up and down all the time, but believe it or not I'm finding it easier to move my hand up and down so that's the method I am using. Too bad I'm not consistent with it yet and I'm still learning how to do it.

Other hurdles to be encountered in the Hard difficulty is a ramp up in speed for the notes, meaning that not only do you have to get used to using a new fret and seeing a new note appear on the fretboard on screen, but you have to play them at a faster speed to what you would be used to in Medium. There also is a lot more chords and Hammer-Ons/Pull-Offs to play on Hard, which when combined with the added speed and learning process of the new fret certainly makes for a big challenge.

I am finding it difficult to wrap my head around it at the moment and as a result, it is rather frustrating. It's my own fault in a way as for a month or two, I played the Guitar Hero games with just the 360 controller and I can play Hard using that quite well actually (although the ending of One in Guitar Hero III is physically impossible to pass using the controller). Had I not played with the controller for a while, perhaps I'd be past the learning stages of Hard using the guitar and perhaps I'd even be getting into Expert by now. That's something I won't ever know so for now I'm stuck with learning how to play Hard.

Despite the frustration, I am finding it enjoyable to do. As I said before it is a gamer's game and I really like those and luckily for me I always have that special feeling waiting for me when I do finally manage to succeed. Guitar Hero might take longer than most games to master but as a completionist and achievement whore, I'm willing to put in the dedication required if it means finishing the games more and gaining that feeling of satisfaction that (by then at least) I will deserve.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Metal Gear Solid 2: Return Of The Nismo

After an unintended hiatus from the game, I have finally gone back to playing Metal Gear Solid 2 and as expected I loved it.

When I left the game, I had just finished the Tanker chapter of the game. It was a decent introduction to the game and eased me back into the controls and Metal Gear's world. The end of the Tanker chapter was also a decent place to leave the game again. While I didn't intend to stop playing the game, finishing off when Snake did ended up being a good thing for me when it comes to the story. The following missions of the game take place on an Oil Rig with another character, Raiden (more on him in a minute) so when it came time for me to resume playing the game it didn't feel like I had forgotten the story as I was starting another chapter rather than continuing an old one.

Moving onto my actual progress then, I played a small chunk of Raiden's chapter of the game on the Oil Rig (named Big Shell) and just like the Tanker chapter before it, I have enjoyed everything I have done so far. I have been tasked with disarming bombs, fighting one of the game's bosses (which in typical Metal Gear fashion was an awesome fight) and I am now on my way to infiltrate another section of the Big Shell (disguised as one of the terrorists, no less) to try and rescue hostages and perhaps more importantly, The President. Yes, The President of the US.

While it is still early days yet, what I have seen of Raiden's story has been enjoyable and I now find myself not understanding why so many people dislike him. Obviously he isn't as cool as Snake is, but then why should they be compared anyway? Perhaps something happens further in the game that I haven't come across yet, something that turns everyone off the character and therefore explains why they have the opinions that they do. I guess that is something that I may find out later.

I like the relationship he has with Rose and enjoy listening to their conversations while I save, or while she jumps into a conversation I was having with another character like the Colonel. Their story so far seems to have a few subtle hints towards some important subjects that I don't know about yet and as a result I am definitely interested in hearing more as I play on. I am especially interested in finding out why a particular date is so important as well, a date that Rose remembers but Raiden seems to have forgotten. I can't remember what the date (or month even) is off the top of my head and I'm not going to check Wikipedia for it so I don't spoil the game so I'm happy to find out over the course of the game.

The boss fight with Fatman on the helipad was awesome and I must say, rather unexpected. I knew I was going to fight him, especially when I heard that he had asked to see me specifically but even so the events of the game surprised me a little. Seeing Fortune appear beforehand meant that I thought I was going to be fighting her instead and while that is partly true, you do fight her for a brief moment, I didn't think that I would be fighting Fatman after that. Seeing him skate around on his rollerblades while arming bombs for me to disarm was cool though, cool in the sense that the fight used a task that I had just become accustomed to in the game's recent past (disarming bombs) and cool because it's a boss skating around on rollerblades. It was another example of a Metal Gear Solid boss; unique, fun and a compelling fight. I look forward to more in the latter parts of the game.

And that's about it. I have actually played the game more than once in the recent past so for the most part it seems like I am able to stick to the guidelines I created for this Road To Completion goal that I have set myself. I'm definitely keen on playing more too as I'm immersed into this latest (for me) MGS game now and can't wait to see what is next. I'm stuck though at the moment as I need to find an AK-47 before I can infiltrate the Shell's core to find where the hostages and President are located. I can't find this gun even after being hinted to its location by the Colonel, so it's holding me back a little bit. I'm gonna keep looking though (I refuse to use a guide) so hopefully I find it soon and I can continue on.

Anyway, expect another progress report in the near future.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Third Time Is A Charm?

It has been an awesome few weeks lately for me and gaming news. Two games were announced that I was not expecting at all and yet my excitement and anticipation for both games are as high as my anticipation was for GTA IV. The games?

Beyond Good and Evil 2 and the new Oddworld game.

Sure, Beyond Good and Evil was pretty much guaranteed when it was revealed that Michel Ancel and his team had been working on it for quite some time but it was never confirmed as going to happen until Ubisoft decided on it. They made the right decision and announced it at their 'Ubidays' event that just recently happened. The new Oddworld game on the other hand completely came out of the blue and was especially surprising considering that Lorne Lanning and the developers of the previous Oddworld games were meant to be working on other unrelated to gaming projects. Both announcements were welcomed with a jump for joy from yours truly and I now look forward to seeing how these games pan out in the course of their development and of course I await the day I can play both.

Why is my anticipation so high for both titles? Well put simply, I absolutely love the previous games in the two franchises. Beyond Good and Evil was such a unique experience and a breath of fresh air at the time when I had played quite a few FPS games and a couple of big RPGs as well. Having a game focus on a conspiracy and even a journalistic side was such a nice change from shooting anything that moved or fighting battle after battle and I was immersed in the world of Hillys and Jade's adventure from start to finish. Not even the short length of the game could detract from the fun I was having and I have finished it many times just because it's a great game to go to when I feel like a change in my gaming habits. The soundtrack was also absolute bliss and complimented the game perfectly.

I'm anticipating the latest Oddworld game because I loved the side scrolling games of the PS1 days and I also loved the two games that came out last gen, Munch's Odyssey and Stranger's Wrath. I won't go into detail like I did for BG&E but simply put, the Oddworld story was never completed as far as I am concerned and it is great to know that it will finally be continued on through this new game. Will it be a side scrolling game like the old days, or similar to the most recent Stranger's Wrath? Perhaps neither and perhaps something completely different again. I can't wait to find out.

As the title of this entry alludes to, the third time is a charm. What am I referring to? Well I guess you could say that it refers to two things; one being some other game announcements that happened recently or the second being that another announcement is perhaps due (these things always happen in threes don't they?) in the near future.

I'm hoping that it is the latter and that I can be absolutely shocked and surprised again, but if not I am quite happy to settle for BG&E2 and the new Oddworld game. So that leaves me with the other games I'm happy to see announced recently.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts was announced last year but it was only recently that more information was revealed about it. As far as I'm concerned, what was shown is the Banjo of old that everyone loves with the addition of vehicles and the creation of them to provide a new and unique experience that is still similar at the same time. A lot of people don't seem to like this new direction that the game is taking and while that's their opinion, I feel they perhaps jumped the gun a bit too quickly and made their decision hastily as they saw the vehicle concept. I'm content to sit it out and wait until I see more before I decide whether the addition is a welcome one or not, but from what I saw in the recent reveal it is still a game that I am anticipating. The Banjo games rock, after all.

Another Rare game was announced recently and that is Viva Pinata 2: Trouble In Paradise. Personally I am anticipating this more than the Banjo game (and I absolutely love Banjo) so that is saying something about my appreciation and admiration for unique games with beautiful art directions. The original Viva Pinata was fantastic; it was simple in style and execution and yet rather complex when it came to maximising the potential of your garden. It was also a great game to play to unwind after some intense Gears of War play as I went for the Seriously achievement. I spent hours enticing the little Pinatas to enter my garden, watching them interact with each other and of course mating them as well. Viva Pinata 2 looks like it will continue the brilliant and simple fun of the original game while adding some new Pinata species to the mix, co-op play and a few other additions. I'm really looking forward to the game and can't wait for it to be released.

And that's the game announcements that have made me one happy gamer in the recent past. As I said above, I'm quietly hoping that another game announcement happens in the near future that excites me as much as the Oddworld and Beyond Good and Evil 2 announcements did. If it happens I'll blog about it here (proving that things really do happen in threes) and if it doesn't happen, well I'm content in knowing that not only will I be playing a new Banjo and Pinata game soon, but that I will also be playing a new Oddworld and Beyond Good and Evil game in the future as well.