ron, Oct-25 2008

Medidations on Resistance 2 co-op #1: the medic

Team,

you all know how much I love you, and yet I feel misunderstood at times. I feel we have come to a point in our relationship where I need to know that ongoing issues will be adressed, because I want to stay with you for the long haul.

I am your medic. I am a support class, and yet I am somewhat self-sufficient: I have some offensive capabilities that always work, without needing ammo. I can absorb health from enemies to heal myself and do paltry and yet reliable damage, and I can heal you in times of need. I can fire healing orbs across long distances if need be, and they instantly fix everyone inside a certain radius. I know you all love being healed. However, you must know that my capacity of healing orbs is finite, and our mutual success hinges upon our close cooperation. Did you know that it takes about five seconds of sustained attacking to restore just one charge of my healing gun?

Dear soldier,

your responsibility is not just to do damage, but to absorb damage, into your shield and into yourself, and thus protect the team that keeps you going. Being in front, it is your privilege to choose where we go and when, and your team will always attempt to follow. But thus it is also your responsibility to gauge the risks we all are taking with you. Please refrain from rushing. Please try to not get surrounded and killed. Please keep your shield up so the rest of us can follow you closely. Our mutual friend spec ops will keep your ammo supplies high, and I will care for your wounds, but we can't do any of that if we're all dead together.

Dear spec ops,

you are perpetually torn between dealing damage precisely and at long range, looking cool, and not least restocking your comrades. It is laudable that you focus your attention on the soldier class, as keeping his shield functional is a definite priority, but please also bless me with an ammo package every now and then. I don't need them to fire my health absorption gun, but ammo packs are the fastest way to refill my capacity to heal, and indeed the only way to refill it fast enough. It's also always delightful when I find a grenade or two in my belongings, especially when swarmed. I can carry hedgehogs and carbine secondary charges, but I spawn with zero of both. Only you can increase that number.

Dear all,

Another thing that concerns me is how headstrong you rush forward and then feel all too free to call my name just after you inevitably get yourself killed. It is as if you attempt to purge all possible blame from yourself. In actuality, I always know exactly what you need and when, due to helpful on-screen indicators, and there's no reason to call me, nor is it effective. I don't recognize your voice anyway. If I don't heal you right away, it's not because I don't know of your need. It's because I got tied up bailing out yet another comrade who took too many risks. If I keep fighting at the front lines, it's not because I misunderstand my role. It's because my healing gun ran dry and I desperately need to recharge. And should I ever refuse to revive you, be certain that it's not out of spite, but because you've rushed right into a wave of enemies, and to approach your corpse would only mean my own certain death. I know that waiting out a respawn is hardly a satisfying experience. What you should take away from it though is not first and foremost "I need to try harder to grab the attention of a medic", but perhaps rather "I need to more carefully manage my risk taking", at least some of the time.

I try hard, and I give it all for you. Please do not doubt my good intentions. I do take risks to compensate for the foolishness of my comrades, because I want us to thrive and succeed either way. If I don't get restocked, I can still regain healing charges, albeit slowly, by attacking, and I will of course dispense them to anyone who needs them as fast as I can. This however requires that we all stick close together, to minimize time spent running back and forth between multiple wings of the team, or even the occasional lone wolf. I can cope with one or the other, neglect in restocking or broken formation, but be advised that I cannot cope with the combination of both. As much as I would like to, it's regrettably not possible.

Feel free to put yourself in my shoes for a match or two. Notice the on-screen indicators. Notice how little damage I can take. Notice the limitations placed on healing. Notice the danger incurred by reviving comrades that have fallen right at the front lines. Notice how a single healing charge can heal many comrades as long as they are inside a certain radius. Notice how much more effective my work gets when we're close together.

Help me help you get through this. Know that proximity is key. Form up. Stick together.
Thank you.

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ron, Sep-27 2008

Convenience is convenient

RPGs are huge, generally speaking. The bar for expected play-time lies somewhere above 40 hours, 50 hours if you dabble in any side-quests at all, and way above 100 for genuine completionists. It's a pet theory of mine that the RPG genre isn't really as popular as sales numbers ostensibly suggest, but rather that the average length of RPGs, in tandem with completionist's guilt, keeps the trade with used copies much lower than in other genres.
The point being, if you spend such a long time with one game, it becomes really important that the game is convenient. A few seconds of delay here and there, unnecessary animations, slightly inconvenient menus etc are generally not a problem for games that end after 15 to 20 hours. 50 hours later though, if and because you like the game enough to stay with it that long, these tiny annoyances will grate on you. Thousands of repetitions can do that.
It's good to see that the contemporary RPG market doesn't consist purely of dadaism, but that there are still a number of RPG development studios who care about delivering good, pleasant gaming experiences. Level 5 is one such developer, and Rogue Galaxy is one such game.

Rogue Galaxy is all seamless, all the time. 1)Unless you travel between planets, every environment is just one huge space that gets streamed in in the background without ever involving a loading screen. 2)The environment you explore and the environment you fight in are one and the same.
Let me point out again that this image is just one of many Rogue Galaxy screenshots. You can click the image, too, as usual.

The biggest culprit versus convenience is usually the load time for the battle arenas – for any RPG that has them, that is. Final Fantasy IX is the first example that comes to my mind, as I absolutely love the gameplay systems and the world and its aesthetics, but simultaneously loathe its battle load times and long "cinematic" camera swoops so much that I just can't bring myself to play it past disc 2.
The battle-delay issue is often lumped in with hate for random encounters per se, but that's quite imprecise. More often than not you can trivially run away from anything but special event battles, so you don't have to fight if you really don't want to. The actual problem is that by the time you regain control, after the transition into battle mode, you've already lost such an awful lot of time that running away feels only marginally faster than staying and winning and taking the spoils.

Mio understands. Efficiency is the final frontier.

Rogue Galaxy does have random encounters. Whenever you're exploring outside of pacified zones, enemies may literally drop from the sky, right into your current environment, and the battle commences. A quick, half-second change of character stances later (unsheathing of swords etc), you're back to full control. If you keep running and get far enough away, the game will prompt you if you want to escape, and if you confirm, the enemies vanish while you remain where you are. Thus you can explore and cover actual distance even in encounters you have no intention to tackle, and lose maybe a second.
Even the usual battle summary, where your experience points and loot are tallied up after you win, is a mere transparent overlay to the exploration perspective. The second it fades in you can already move your character and get on with business.

Together with certain other facets of Rogue Galaxy, it seems clear that convenience for the player must have been an actual design priority during its development. E.g. the game world is littered with teleport pads, which once discovered allow free, instant travel across the current planet (or to the bridge of the ship, from where you can go to any other planet). All cut-scenes can be paused and skipped. The revelation board, which lets you invest various loot items into new combat skills for your characters, automatically highlights characters that can be advanced with the loot currently on hand, and automatically places the cursor on an applicable spot. The crafting systems can be used anywhere and automatically keep track both of recipes you should try, and of combinations you already have tried. The game is just generally fast, inviting and easy to use.

This nice little desert planet is only the starting point for a no-holds-barred space opera.

I reserve full spectrum mumbling for the eventual review, but I will say now that it's not just the general efficiency I like. The game, overall, is definitely solid if not spectacular. The basic combat system works well. There's a blocking mechanic that interacts with an action-point mechanic, all characters have primary and secondary weapons (which gives you melee and ranged usually) where a recharge timer makes sure you make more or less balanced use of both. You can also pick up and throw dazed enemies, some enemies can only be damaged mid-jump etc. It's to some extent playable as stupid button-mashy fun, especially when you're overleveled, but you'll be significantly more effective if you play with care. Masochists on the look-out for really convoluted side-quests/minigames should also be able to satisfy themselves profoundly with the "factory" and "insector" aspects. Though I have to stress it again: those mini-games aren't demanding due to terrible interface design, but rather because the player needs to perform lots of different little actions over a long time.

It's quite heart-warming when the games I choose to play actually turn out to be good. A number of terrible RPG-like experiences I endured for far too long lately, let's given them the code names Oblivion and Valkyrie Profile 2, really wore down my will to spend time with more specimens. Rogue Galaxy is reeling me back in, and I'm glad I finally bit.

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ron, Aug-31 2008

Your regular scheduled programming

You may have noticed that on Friday an NES version of the venerable classic Dig Dug and a cute 2D platformer have popped up on the Wii Shop Channel, alongside the WiiWare releases. I noticed that, too, but only yesterday. On Friday I was busy-busy with work-work and didn't even check. Such shame.
This is as good an opportunity as any to announce some changes in the way that I will approach these regular Wii Shop Channel releases going forward. I didn't originally intend to let this coincide with such a gaffe on my part, but what can you do. Good thing I already begun with it last Friday, which I can now point to as evidence that I'm not making up excuses as I go along :-)

You may have noticed that this site has been more or less my personal blog, albeit strictly for topics related to gaming. I do this in my spare time, and I like doing most of it, so I don't particularly mind the fact that the site is, and since inception has been, the exact opposite of profitable. It's great just getting stuff out of my system, and I know some of you have been at least mildly entertained on one occasion or another. I will definitely keep doing reviews and the odd frontpage tidbit whenever I deem the review structure prohibitive for what I want to say. I also like to believe that the collection of reviews under (hopefully, I honestly try) near constant standards can be a useful archive-ish service to come back to.

What I'm honestly not enjoying all that much is sifting through every single VC release. It's a tall order for one person with a small time budget. When I see how even pro writers such as Jeremy Parish just gave up eventually, I don't feel particularly bad about my own brooding desire to do the same.
I still love the Virtual Console. I think it's the best feature of this console generation by far, even despite being consistently too expensive. At the same time, it's also a system that is brimming with cruft, with games that aren't simply outdated but never were more than sloppy money-grabs. Those have always existed, and I just don't enjoy spending time with them, time I have to take away from something else, only to produce a few sentences of summary.
What I want to do is let things of lesser relevance just slide and use the extra time to focus on the more noteworthy games, to provide better, more elaborate coverage, maybe get some screen captures up in a timely fashion, or even get cracking on some much-needed improvements to the technical aspects of the site. Any and either of those I feel would provide more value to all parties involved than me tiring my poor old self in a scramble to check off as many b- and c-list items as possible. Yay for quality over quantity.

That's the plan. It should make all of us happier, in a happy way.
If you require full rundowns of every single VC release, and you didn't know the place yet, I'd like to point you to vc-reviews.com, which is run by an actual staff, one that does a good job get blurbs, media and reviews up in a timely fashion. I often disagree with their idea of fun gaming, but they deserve big props for valiantly fighting the fight that I alone cannot.

In other news, Dig Dug is good, and that's also why it's so famous, but it's way too expensive. Even though lesser known, that platformer is a much wiser way to spend 600 points.
Care you take, until soonish.

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