Sunday, May 1, 2016

Odds and Ends - On PS4, VGM Podcasts and Board Games

I actually had a different post planned, but after travelling and a week of being more or less sick, I decided to take it chill and do a bit more of a mellow one. A bit of odds and ends about what going on around here.

PS4 in da house
I finally got around to buying a Playstation 4! It really took me forever, mainly because I was trying to justify spending that much money on a console when A: it doesn't have that many games I want to play and B: I already have too many games backlogged as it is anyway. What finally won me over were three things.
On my trip I took the opportunity to visit a dear old friend of mine and our tradition is to sit down and game as much as we can. We used to do this all night long, but nowadays there is usually just time for an evening of fun. He let me try some games on his ps4, namely The Last of Us (he knows I can't do horror games and thinks it's hilarious to see me try) and Journey. I liked them both but liked the Last of Us more than I thought and Journey less than thought. I didn't get overly far in tLoU but it was less creepy than I thought it would be, although I could definitely see how the game could put you in some really stressful situations. Journey was as beautiful and artsy as I expected, and perfect for the couple of stages I tried. I only got a feeling the gameplay might wear on me after a while, but I don't know if the game throws in some curveballs later on. Gettings hands-on with the ps4, eventhough his decided to be a bit nasty with us on that particular evening, encouraged me to get my own one as I knew a bit more about how it worked and looked.
Secondly, FFVII remake is coming out for the ps4. Although only exclusive for a time, I used it as a an excuse that I needed it.
Thirdly, once I've gotten the idea that I need something into my head, I can't really get rid of it - it's how I ended up with my very first console anyway and only good has come from that. I am sure a lot of people recognize it.

Also known as "Generic White Guy Adventures" in some countries.

So now I own one and I only have the Uncharted collection for it, a series of games I have been eyeing for a while now and am looking forward to trying. Coincidentally I saw that the 4th in the series is coming out in less than two weeks. I doubt I'll get through the first three in that time though, as a game of this size usually takes me months to play though... Next we'll probably get Bloodborne, as the bf who is a huge Dark Souls fan has been lusting after it for a while.

As we have limited space under our TV, me and the bf had a discussion as to which other console had to make room (ie go into the cupboard) for the ps4. I opted for the NES, because eventhough it is beautiful I never play it. The bf refused (and fair enough, he does actually play it occasionally), so now the Gamecube and the ps4 share space instead and the NES remains untouched.

Pixelmusic everywhere
Since I've got almost 7km to work, which I usually bike (yes, even in -16C (almost 0F) this winter!), I've started to listening to a lot of podcasts, mainly VGM podcasts of which there are more of than I first thought. So far I am listening to four different ones, most of them keep a pretty similar style and I like them all;

Rhythm & Pixels - These one hour episodes with hosts Rob & Pernell, released every week, cover pretty much any kind of game. At the end they throw in some remixed versions based on the theme of the episode which is unique among the podcasts I listen to, which is a nice touch. If I could change one thing about this podcast I would make it longer, it often feels like they're just getting started and then it ends! But then again, it is released every week.

Pixeltunes Radio - Two hour episode released bi-weekly with hosts Ed & Mike. Theme wise very similar to Rhythm & Pixels and Pixelated Audio (below), so more of the same (and very good).

Pixelated Audio - This show is a bit inbetween the other two, sometimes one hour sometimes two hours in length and I frankly don't know how often it is released (but I think also bi-weekly). The only slight difference to the first two is that hosts Bryan & James talk a bit more about the technical part of VGM, as in hardware, sound channels and so on. This doesn't mean someone with no knowledge at all (like me) should feel deterred - rather I feel it adds a lot of fun to the episodes.

Battle Bards - This one is a bit different from the first three. Also bi-weekly, one hour episodes, this show focuses on MMORPG music (apparently there are enough of those to do an entire podcast with just that!) and has three hosts called Syp, Steff and Syl. Also good!

If you know any more VGM podcasts please throw them my way, I'd love to hear about them!

And the Board Games
I'm not sure if I mentioned it before somewhere, but I've been trying to incorporate more board games into my life. I've always been a fan of board games (except Monopoly which will drive me mad) and used to play them a lot as a kid, both traditional ones and tabletop RPG ones. As I got older, and more importantly moved far away from my childhood friends, my problem quickly became not having anyone to play with. Now my new friends, whom I love dearly, unfortunately seem to have very little interest in both video games and board games. I've warned them I am going to try to groom them into liking it sooner or later, but for now I've decided to take matter into my own hands and get a selection of 2-player board games because fortunately at least my boyfriend wants to play with me. So far we've got Boss Monster, Mage Knight, Carcassonne and Zombies!!! (and Munchkin and Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards, which albeit playable aren't that much fun with just two players). Boss Monster and Carcassonne are good fun and we haven't gotten around to trying Mage Knight yet, simply because it seems like a pretty big undertaking and requires some more planning than the others.

Then of course we have some Magic the Gathering and Pokémon TCG lying around but the bf wants to play Yu-Gi-Oh... (hell no).

Yet again, if you know of any other fun 2-player board games, please give me a shout!

Also available as a slightly less fun Steam Game.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Unfinished Look At Ys Origin - Lost Momentum

Considering RPGs are one of my favorite video game genres, there are frightingly many I haven't played. And I'm not even talking about individual games, but entire game series where I haven't played through a single game - eventhough I might have played a bit of a game here or there. Series like Dragon Quest, Secret of Mana, Shin Megami Tensei and Breath of Fire to name a few. A small reason for this is that I didn't play video games at all when a lot of these games were released, and so I've either had to play emulators or buy expensive copies (RPGs always tend to get really expensive over time). Another reason is that eventhough I love RPGs, I rarely have the patience to sit through the 40-some hours they want from me. I guess in the end I am actually quite picky and I've started up countless RPGs just to quit halfway because I got stuck on something lame. FFVI is one such game. And unfortunately so is Ys Origin.

The Ys series is yet another of many that I had never played a game of, until recently when I decided to get a bundle of them on and see if they were any fun. I had in fact not even heard of the Ys series at all until a couple of years ago, somehow it's a series that just went under my radar. I asked around about which game to start with, since I had both Ys Origin and Ys I to choose from, but got the recommendation of going with Ys Origin. So I did.

And I liked it at first. I often do. Some RPGs suffer from a really dull opening hour or two of the game, like Suikoden IV and Star Ocean 3. But Ys Origin got into the action fairly quickly and I liked the fast paced combat system. The story is dumb as two thick planks, something about some spirits or angels getting lost in a tower and your village goes in to investigate. As far as I understood it the entire game takes place in said tower, because for the 9 hours I played it I never got anywhere else. It looks good enough, but it's hardly thrilling. You get to choose between two different characters to play, a melee and a caster. I chose the caster, Hugo Fact, simply because I had had a streak of playing melee characters in other games up until this point and felt like I wanted to try something else. Apparently that might've been a bad choice since a friend told me Hugo Fact is the less fun of the two. I can't say anything to that since I never tried the melee character, but I thought playing Hugo was alright.

So as mentioned the story was completely uninspiring, the surroundings alright and the combat fairly fun. The game eased you in quite nicely and had some spikes of difficulty here and there that kept you on your toes. The bosses were generally fun and required a bit of tactic in the style of the Zelda games to beat. I remember I died over and over to one boss before I found out that you can actually run (I like being stupid like that) - making that particular fight a walk in the park. So I had a moderate amount of fun with Ys Origin, but as with many other RPGs I have tried to get through it was balancing on the scale, still leaning in on the "fun" side but could so easily slip into the "tedious" side. And then it happened.

I'm guessing I was about half way through the game (but I don't actually have a clue), when I came across a type of enemies that regenerated after you had killed them. You needed a special item to kill them dead - no problem. I found the item and continued on my merry way. Or so I thought. Suddenly I come across the same enemy, but as door guardians. Regular enemies but in a stronger iteration of which you have to kill a certain few to unlock a door, again it reminded me of the Zelda games. In this case it was three. So what was the problem?

I did 1 damage to these enemies. At first I sort of giggled at it. I've come across these kind of enemies in other games before - Castlevania is a good example. Often they're designed either to have a shit ton of health and you require a certain item to deal more damage to them, or they really only have a little health but maybe a dangerous skill or attack that you need to be vary of. These enemies however seemed to have both. They both had a shit-ton of health and they dealt a shit-ton of damage. I easily dealt a hundred damage (that is, a hundred attacks) to one of them without it dying, whereas he killed me in two or three strokes. Now I had to kill three of these guys consecutively, without saving inbetween, or they would just reset and I had to start over. It didn't matter really that I didn't have to take them on all at the same time. The fact that it took several minutes just to deal with one, only to possibly have all that time wasted after a few blows to my character was frustrating beyond words. It was frustrating way beyond fun. (I only found the above video while researching for this post, but I hate having to do cheap tactics to deal with enemies. That is bad design).

All I could think was - "why would you design an enemy like this or an event like this?". As an optional side-quest/kill to get a special item, sure. As a way to progress the story? Hell no.

My mind when I realized what I had to do -

At first I was certain I was doing it wrong. Surely there must be some item I needed to make it easier? But if there is, I never figured it out. So I assumed I had to resort to good old grinding. Now, I am not a huge fan of grinding levels in games, but I will definitely get my hands down and dirty with it if I need to. Or rather, if I feel like it's worth it. I have done it in many, many other games and I had already done it a couple of times in Ys Origin before this point in the game. I did try to get another couple of levels, realizing that each level only made the fight against these monsters marginally easier, making the 15-20 minuted I had spent with mindless grinding so not worth it. I decided that enough was enough. The game had its strong points, or at least one strong point in the combat, but nothing else to make me want to put in that level of effort. And even if the combat is fun, if you have no reason to see what happens at the end of a game there is only so far the combat can take you. I had already done 9 hours of combat, it definitely wasn't enough of a motivating factor to make me want to go through this tedious part of the game when I felt like there was no reward to it.

It's unfortunate, because for all its flaws Ys Origin at least had momentum enough to keep me interested on very little for a whole 9 hours. Being able to basically spam your way through enemies was rewarding enough (as any good hack'n'slash will tell you), but that all came crumbling down when the momentum was brought to a literal stop. I don't mind doing a couple of tries on a boss or a tricky area, in fact without a bit of challenge a game is no fun either. But I just felt like this was a cheap trick at wasting my time, and I didn't want any of it.

In the future I might give it another go with the melee character instead, eventhough I really don't think this particular part of the game will be any more easy or fun. For now however, Ys Origin is just another game on my list of "almost fun"-games that I could never bother to get through.

(Ps. There won't be any posts for two weeks, because I am travelling. See you in May!)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Review of Tribloos 2 - Time Management Optional

I've got an ambigious relationship to puzzle games. On the one hand I think they can be an awesome way to spend those tidbits of time you find yourself with here and there, on the other hand I am easily frustrated and pretty much require a simplistic gameplay to stick around. This means I pass over more intricate puzzle games like Braid, Myst and Safecracker immediately whereas I'll play Bejeweled or Tetris as much as the next person. I think where I get frustrated is whether I have to figure what needs to be done to move on or not. Games like Bejeweled or Tetris are extremely straightforward as to what the goal is, doing it as good as possible is the challenge. Games that require logical and/or out of the box thinking are just not for me. It's funny then that eventhough I do enjoy the simplistic puzzlers, I spend exactly zero amount of time on Facebook and smartphone games. I think the cash-grabbiness that haunts 95% of those games has just sucked the fun out of it for me... but that's a topic for another post!

Didn't even hear about the first game...

Then you've got the puzzle games that are a little bit inbetween, like Tribloos 2. And I think in a way they might be the best ones. Because as a time-management game, Tribloos 2 gives you the incentive for careful planning and logical thinking, but the gameplay is designed so that it's not necessary. Getting a good time score is just a bonus to your points, not a requisite to advance in the game. That suits me perfectly.

Funnily enough, my very first thought when starting up Tribloos 2 (I've got it on Steam) was that it looked exactly like a Facebook game. I mean this in the same sense you can recognize a 16-bit or 64-bit game by their aesthetics, you can pretty much spot a Facebook/Ios game by the way they look as well. I had never heard of Tribloos nor Tribloos 2 and I have no idea how it ended up in my Steam library. Probably the same way a lot of other games have, through some bundle or other (I've found surprisingly many good games through bundles).

The story of Tribloos 2 is simple enough and obviously just an excuse to get the puzzling going. You're basically controlling a bunch of Tribloos that need to rebuild various buildings throughout the 75 stages that the game apparently holds (I've currently reached stage 50 or so). At first it reminded me a bit of Lemmings in that you need to manage where to go and what to do with the Tribloos. Different buildings allow you to harvest recourses (there are also resources scattered around the stages) that allow you to build further buildings - in this it reminded me a bit of games like Settlers or Warcraft (without any of the fighting). The challenge lies in managing your recources and Tribloos (technically also a resource), so that they're put to the most effective use throughout the stage.

Tribloos can't breathe underwater, silly buggers

The stages vary from forest, to air, to sea, to underground (at least as far as I've come) and the game throws in new recources and challenges to manage all along. As mentioned, graphically and aesthetically it does what it needs to do without any wow-factor. It gives you information about the stage and is definitely more practical than eye pleasing, but the Tribloos themselves are pretty charming. I find it hilarous that the game actually loads graphics when you start it up, because there can hardly be anything to load.

The game eases you into the concept nice and slow, and personally I don't feel like it ever forces any real challenge on you. This is both its strength and its weakness. If you want to, and don't give a damn about the time score, you can play this game without giving it much thought at all. If you just keep some rule of thumb in mind, like always making sure to build the lumber mill that allows for unlimited planks first, the game rarely throws you any curve balls or tricks you into wasting your resources in the wrong places.

Work work - (

If you do care about the time score however, you'll probably need to scout out the level ahead and plan every step of the way. Some levels throw in an aspect of timing, where you need to deploy your Tribloos at the right time to not waste time. Some levels are basically designed like bonus stages and play a bit with the concept, I definitely prefer the standard levels however. Overall, Tribloos 2 reminds me a bit of Yoshi's Story, or the Hard Modes (not heroic modes) in World of Warcraft. The way you play the game basically decides whether it's going to be any challenge or not. Whether you're going to beat the stage or not is never the issue, whether you're going to do it good and get the extra rewards is however.

I like Tribloos 2, as a game to play for a bit here and there it's alright. It really feels like it's perfectly designed to be played on the go. It's great in the sense that it doesn't matter whether you want a challenge or just something to waste a bit of time with, you decide how the level plays out and this just further emphasises the Facebook-game feel. I wouldn't say it's worth the 9 euro Steam wants for it normally (when posting this it's actually 90% off), because unfortunately the gameplay doesn't feel well enough worked out. Eventhough I enjoy the fact that the game is simple at its core, it's almost too simple, removing a lot of the feeling of satisfaction of completing a stage (a problem I find most Facebook games seem to have). The time score alone doesn't make up for this, personally I would've prefered a more complicated stage layout that required more planning to manage your resources, and not just your time. I am torn between liking that it's not just designed for puzzle nerds, and thinking that that in turn makes it too simple to be worth 9 euro. But if you're into puzzles and have a euro lying around, this might well be worth checking out.