punkyliar's Blog - Apr to Jun 12 (75 followers)

PermalinkMy thoughts on The Walking Dead: Episode 1
I promised to post my The Walking Dead (Xbox 360) review, originally written for Gamin' Girl last week. I was late sending it off though and it didn't get published until after I'd written last week's blog. Instead, the review is here this week:

Zombies are everywhere; they’re the current fad. Modern gamers have been programmed to think that zombies are bad and humans are good, that zombies must die at all costs. Point-and-click veterans Telltale Games are aiming to put another perspective on the genre, where the divide between good and bad is more blurred. Episode one is the first of five episodes to place gamers into the world of the Walking Dead comic books, created by the minds of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. Will you survive?

Who is this?

Familiar Walking Dead characters Rick Grimes and his family are nowhere to be seen. Instead, players assume the role of Lee Everett, a man convicted of a murder that he may or may not have committed. We join him on his journey to jail in the back of a police car during the start of the zombie outbreak. The journey does not go smoothly, but to tell you any more will spoil the story for you. However, fans of the comic book lore will be pleased to know that some familiar characters will be making an appearance during the game.

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Both beginners and veterans of the point-and-click genre will find something to enjoy here. There are two difficulty settings: Standard and Minimal. Standard means that all interactions will be marked on the screen with a faint white dot, and the game will occasionally give out hints if players get stuck. On Minimal, players are left to work things out on their own. Interactive objects will only appear when the cursor passes over them and the icon changes. As the game itself is not too difficult, I must recommend that veterans play the game on Minimal to get the most enjoyment out of it. The settings can be changed through Options in the Main menu at any time in the game, so if things are too easy or too difficult, you’re not stuck with those settings.

Unusually for a point-and-click on this platform, the controls didn’t feel clunky in any way and are quite intuitive. Lee moves around with the left joystick, while the cursor is moved around with the right joystick. All actions are mapped to the four face buttons, or players can use the d-pad instead. Generally, Y (up) is the inspect button, A (down) is the button used to interact with objects, B (right) is the button which allows players to use objects, and X (left) is used to talk to other characters. Those four buttons represent different dialogue options when interacting with characters.

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Zombie killing with morals

Initially I was disappointed with this game. The first four chapters were completely devoid of everything that I loved about point and clicks. Every objective would automatically be completed without me having to work anything out once I had wandered around for long enough. I underestimated the impact of the few choices that I did make though. Dialogue choices will affect the way that other characters react to you further into the game. Player actions will also change the course of the story and the characters with whom you travel through the game.

Things get better from chapter five onwards and we get the type of gameplay that I had expected from Telltale. Players have to explore their environments and solve puzzles in order to progress, although failure to work something out will not result in game over. Being a point-and-click, players can’t just wander through the game attacking every zombie that they find – all zombie encounters are carefully scripted into the story and Telltale attempts to make players empathise with their plight. Characters must avoid being bitten – there’s no immunity here. There’s also the constant need for information of family members and friends and the cruel decisions that come when the inevitable happens.

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Zombie encounters are made tenser by the limited amount of time in which players have to react. Failure to react in time will end in Lee’s grisly end at the hands of several zombies. Some dialogue options also give players a limited amount of time to react; these are the options that usually affect the course of the story. Players can choose to be honest, dishonest or just sullen and silent. Choose carefully, because you don’t want to annoy a character on whom you’ll need to rely on later.

What happens next?

The game ends with a montage of scenes from the four future episodes. I for one will be intrigued to see how the story pans out, although I hope that future episodes will be longer. Episode 1 will take you a maximum of three hours to complete, two if you’re fairly familiar with the way point-and-click games work. Despite the budget pricing, gamers may feel like they aren’t quite getting their money’s worth. Next month will be interesting.

Hit: The ability to change the story. I became much more emotionally attached to some of the characters.

Miss: The length of the game. An extra hour would have been sufficient.

Needed: More puzzle solving – the type of gameplay I would expect from a point-and-click.
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Posted by punkyliar on 26 May 12 at 15:44 | There is 1 comment on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkWill GAME ever learn?
The woes of the GAME Group have been very well publicised. At the beginning of March their finances reached a critical boiling point that saw EA, Capcom, Namco Bandai, Nintendo and finally Microsoft withdraw their new releases from GAME’s stores until some of their debts had been repaid. A fire sale on their websites and in stores hoped to raise some much needed cash while talks went on behind closed doors. After these talks failed, GAME Group went into voluntary administration and the disappearance of their stores from the high street seemed inevitable. As we all know now, this didn’t happen.

Opcapita LLP stepped in to purchase the UK branch of the company for a measly sum of money, although when the amount of debts was taken into account, it wasn’t that small after all. The other international branches of the company were abandoned to their own devices, their futures uncertain. This week, GAME Australia went into administration with all trade-ins and returns halted, the validity of warranties and pre-orders looking shaky, and the gift cards and loyalty program altered in favour of the company. Whether GAME Australia finds a knight in shining armour remains to be seen, but the drastic changes that were supposed to be implemented in the UK branches are non-existent. This business model didn’t work the first time, surely it won’t work a second time?

Back when GAME and Gamestation were two different chains, GAME’s strategy was to get rid of their main competitor, regardless of cost or practicality. The end situation was that Gamestation would either disappear or that GAME would buy them out. Over the next few months, wherever there was a Gamestation, GAME would place a store too. They would match or beat Gamestation’s offers, regardless of whether this meant selling games at a loss. The plan worked and GAME bought out Gamestation, but none of the excess stores were shut down. The result was that there were two or three stores within walking distance in the same city – something that was completely unsustainable. Although I feel sorry for the 2,104 staff at the 277 stores that shut, this was something that should have happened years ago and is something the group finally got right.

Things in the UK are pretty much back to normal. As the debts have been paid, all new releases are finding their way into GAME’s stores. Most of the releases that they had missed out on are also available in stores now, although Capcom still seem to be holding select titles back. Re-establishing supplier relationships was vital for the chain’s survival. Their fire sale left them more than a little short of stock, so much so that our local store’s attempts at restocking benefitted us too (for those not in the know, I work in a local indie game shop). Their staff would come down during their lunch break and buy the cheapest old sports titles at £3 each i.e. the ones that we couldn’t shift for love nor money. They would then trade them in at GAME. They were that desperate that we even took some of our excess stock up to trade in with their blessing.

The one thing that they really haven’t learned is that excessive pricing won’t sustain a business. When I blogged about the fact that GAME must be saved back on March 1st, most of your comments were in regards to their high pricing. This is still an issue. Most of you will know that I do a deals article every Tuesday. Over the months I’ve seen GAME’s prices go from competitive to exorbitant. Over the last month, GAME has been running a ‘Deals of the Week’ promotion. In three of those four weeks, only ONE title was worth mentioning. The fourth week? Not a single one. They need to start being much more competitive.

To make things worse, their shops are often more expensive than their website. Knowing this, there’s no way that people are going to buy in store when they can get the same game cheaper online. This also stops the implementation of an effective "click and collect" service. This is a service that I’ve used many times at Argos, where I would reserve something online and then pick it up in store later that day. Not only did I know that the store had my item in stock before I went into town, I knew how much it would cost too. Most of our Friday or Saturday customers are looking for something to play over the weekend. Imagine being able to browse the website from home or work and then reserve a game to be picked up on your way home for the same price. It would save waiting for the game to be posted from their cheaper website now, wouldn’t it?

There is one more thing that I would love to see happen at GAME, and I think that Eidos’ Life President Ian Livingstone put it perfectly:

Maybe they need to reinvent themselves, [...] how they engage with consumers on a much more intimate level. The way we used to do it at Games Workshop; we didn’t hire traditional retailers in our shops, we hired gamers who could talk enthusiastically and knowledgeably, and get people interested in the games they were selling. I think if GAME is supposedly a specialist retailer it needs more specialist staff in my humble opinion.
I’ve been told several times by staff at GAME that they are told to say certain things. They can’t say that a game is terrible, for example. We pride ourselves on the fact that we will give an honest opinion on the goods that we sell, and we’ve been told by our customers that it makes a difference. They would rather come to us for a decent conversation than go to GAME where they are reading from a crib sheet. They also need staff members that know what they are doing. Although our local store is pretty good, I went to the Carmarthen store on February 10th, the day that Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition was first due for release. Not realising that the date had been changed, I asked a shop assistant whether they had the game in stock and how much it was. She’d never heard of the Ultimate Edition, she didn’t even know it existed. She thought that I wanted the Collector’s Edition complete with DVD, graphic novel, poker chips and caravan cards, which wasn’t in stock unsurprisingly. I gave up at this point.

I once wanted to work in GAME. I even got an interview a couple of years ago. During that interview, I wasn’t asked a single question about my knowledge of games. Not one. It was at this point that I realised that the chain was turning into a selling machine, rather than the place where I used to be able to go for information. For the sake of gaming on the high street, I hope that this changes soon.
Posted by punkyliar on 19 May 12 at 23:37 | There are 8 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkWhere did the challenge go?
Aside from the several Music Mayhem sessions that I’ve had this week, I’ve not had a lot of time for gaming. When I have been playing games, I’ve mostly been hanging out on https://www.trueachievements.com/Trials-Evolution-xbox-....htm. I adore this game, but there’s a growing sense of minor dissatisfaction with the game. Why? It’s too easy.

I’m not attempting to blow my own trumpet here. I’ve spent many hours with this game and its predecessor, https://www.trueachievements.com/Trials-HD-xbox-360.htm - so much so that I’m what you would probably call an experienced Trials rider. I’m not the best by any means and will never come close to topping any of the tables, and I hate the Extreme tracks as much as the next person. However, I’ve spent enough time with the previous game to be able to blast through the Beginner and Easy tracks, and be fairly competent at the Medium on sight. While I’m aware that my previous experience will make the game seem easier anyway, my medal tally seems to prove my theory.

Trials Screen 14

In Trials HD, I still haven’t managed to get Gold medals on the majority of the Medium DLC tracks. In total, I have Gold medals in six of the Hard tracks. In Evolution, I’ve got Gold medals in all of the 22 Medium tracks, most of which where done on the first attempt. I have Gold medals in all bar one of the 16 Hard tracks that were done on the second or third attempts, and even on the first attempt in a couple of cases. I’ve even done something that would have been totally unheard of in HD: I got a Platinum medal on one of the Hard tracks. My final point comes in the form of the Extreme tracks. My first attempts at Extreme tracks in HD averaged 13:25 with 155 faults. My first attempt at one in Evolution? I got 35 faults in a time of 7:45.

Gone are the 20 track tournaments of old. Gone are the unforgiving times and the need to replay tracks over and over again to push for the higher medals. I’ve come across a fair few user created tracks that are much more challenging than anything in the game itself. I’m finding myself turning increasingly towards the user-created tracks to get my fix. I’ve barely got any gold medals in those tracks.

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I’m also disappointed with The Walking Dead (Xbox 360). I’m a big fan of Telltale Games, as I loved their Wallace & Gromit episodic games, not to mention Sam & Max and the Monkey Island remakes. Unfortunately, Walking Dead is just completely devoid of everything that I love about point-and-clicks. I’m used to games where I have to find clues and come to my own conclusions, or I have to work out which object to use in a certain place so that I can progress further. There’s little thinking required in Walking Dead. As long as the player wanders around for long enough, they will find everything that they need to progress and the game will do all of the thinking for them. Little exploration is needed away from the beaten track. I’m not going to say much more about this game as I’m going to be reviewing it next week – you’ll have my full verdict then.

My experience is far from common. Last month, Joystiq wrote an editorial piece on the disappearance of skill in games. They attributed this to developers’ attempts to appeal to the casual market. There is no denying that there are more gamers in today’s society than there were in any of the previous console generations. Games don’t just appear on discs from a retailer, they are now provided on most new phones or can be played on renowned social media sites such as Facebook. Few people could truly state that they are not a gamer of some sort, even if they like to convince themselves otherwise.

Angry Birds

With a bigger audience comes the need for games to be more accessible and welcoming. However, developers need to find the middle ground between the wider audience and their current fanbase. The problem is that the current fanbase is also changing. Even in what would be termed as the ‘hardcore’ market, I’ve heard grumbles and complaints about games being too difficult. I’ve seen people avoid titles like Dark Souls, Ninja Gaiden II or Devil May Cry 4 because they are deemed to be too challenging. Other previously ‘hardcore’ gamers no longer have the time to spend on their favourite hobby that they previously could afford; in cases like these, they want a game that they can just play through and complete without having to worry about massive time-sinks. Developers will give their fanbase the games that they want and some of the results appear to be games that are devoid of any sort of test.

Don’t get me wrong, I think opening up gaming to a wider audience can only prove to be a beneficial move, but I definitely don’t want it to be at the expense of a sense of challenge. I wait with baited breath to see how many more of my favourite games will fall victim to this trend.
Posted by punkyliar on 12 May 12 at 23:13 | There are 4 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkThe Mayhem has started
May is Music Mayhem, or at least it is on TA. This is a community event where we’re trying to bring like-minded people together to get those elusive achievements in music games that people wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. We’ve included all of the Rock Band games, all of the Hero games (bar Guitar Hero II), Rock Revolution and most of the Karaoke Revolution games. I’ve seen quite a few people ask why DJ Hero hasn’t been included and I’ve seen the myth going around that it’s because only two players are needed. That isn’t the case. All of the DJ Hero multiplayer achievements are competitive, where players must compete in online competitive modes and do things like “win XX times”. This event isn’t about the competitive achievements; we’re solely focusing on the co-operative achievements. None of the competitive achievements (i.e. those asking for so many wins or losses) have been included for any of the above games.

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I’m one of the many people who have signed up for the event. At the time of writing, we have over 1000 people signed up to take part. We’re trying desperately to fit you all into sessions, so don’t despair. What really doesn’t help though are the people who are allocated a session and then decide they don’t want to take part. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that work or personal issues can crop up and they can’t be helped. The people I’m talking about are those that will find any excuse not to take part. I had one person drop out of a session for https://www.trueachievements.com/Rock-Band-2-xbox-360.htm today, a session that I was supposed to take part in. His excuse? The F.A. Cup was on. You can’t tell me that he didn’t know that he would be watching the football until 30 minutes after kick off. We had just 90 minutes to find someone else (we didn’t), and then we had connection issues to boot with the three that were left.

Please, please make sure that your availability is accurate. We’ve had so many people drop out of sessions because they couldn’t make the times that THEY signed up for. I’ve just joined a session where a guy stated that it was GMT time and way too early for him. There’s just one problem with this. It is physically impossible for us to put people into sessions where they have said that they are not available. He was matched into a session based on the times for which HE signed up. I’m putting money on him not changing his time zone.

The one thing that I love about this event is the number of people who are signing up just to help other people gain achievements. I’ve already seen three or four people join sessions for achievements that they don’t need just so that the sessions can go ahead as planned. Believe me, this is very much appreciated. We are desperate for expert level vocalists and drummers. I’ve joined in a session already for Guitar Hero: World Tour so that three other people could get the Platinum Rockstars achievement. I’m also helping out with a session for The Beatles: Rock Band tomorrow at short notice because their expert drummer has dropped out. I really want to see this event succeed.

As for myself, I’ve been in successful sessions for Guitar Hero 5 and https://www.trueachievements.com/Guitar-Hero-Van-Halen-....htm and have gained 17 achievements worth 155G. My completion percentage is taking another beating, having never recovered from February 2011’s Viral Month, but I’d rather have the achievements now. Besides, they’re helping out my team in the GTASC. Unfortunately, my infamous connection issues have reared their head, with unsuccessful sessions in Rock Band 2 and The Beatles Rock Band also under my belt. I guess that I’ll just have to see what the rest of the month holds for me.
Posted by punkyliar on 05 May 12 at 22:55 | There is 1 comment on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkI think there’s something you should know about me
I just happen to like Trials...

This is the best intro of the four that I’m aware of and just about sums up my feelings on the franchise. Last Saturday I had some unexpected and happy news. PlayXBLA is an XBLA blog site that I visit every now and again. They run a caption competition on a near-daily basis. They post either a screenshot, a piece of concept art or a photograph and the community is tasked with writing a witty caption. Last Thursday, this was the picture (taken from Bloodforge) with my caption attempt underneath.

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”Instead of attracting a handsome suitor, her red dress had only managed to attract the weirdest bull she had ever seen.”

On Saturday morning I found out that I was one of the two winners. My prize? Well, I had a choice but there was only one target I had in mind. With only 780 MSP in the pot, I hadn’t been able to purchase Trials Evolution yet. I received my code on Monday evening and left the game downloading overnight. I work on Tuesday, so Tuesday evening was my first opportunity to sit down with the game.

I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the game. I’m finding this one much easier than https://www.trueachievements.com/Trials-HD-xbox-360.htm, but that’s most likely to be because of the amount of experience I’ve had with Trials HD. After all, the physics haven’t changed in the slightest (this is good – they didn’t need fixing). I’ve only got about 50% through the medium difficulty, but I’m getting gold medals on about 95% of the tracks on my first attempt. Despite numerous attempts, I still can’t get gold medals on some of the DLC tracks of equivalent difficulty on Trials HD.

The one thing that I’m definitely not keen on is the fact that the tracks bend now. If this was implemented correctly then it wouldn’t be too bad. If a real motocross rider overshoots a jump just before a corner then he goes flying off the track and hits the crash barrier. In Trials Evolution, this doesn’t happen. The rider is glued to the driving line, meaning that he will turn the corner in mid-air if that is where the track should take him.

I haven’t tried multiplayer yet because I’m yet to be able to connect to a match. This is probably a good idea seeing as I haven’t actually unlocked the last and most powerful bike of the game. I’ll try again once I actually remember to reset my modem and set it back to an open NAT setting.

The one thing that I didn’t wait to try out was Track Central. This is the hub where all of the player-created tracks are stored. There are already some amazing tracks in this hub, but it’s the sheer range of things that are on offer that knocks me back the most. In the five days in which I’ve had the game, I’ve played tracks based on disused mines, Terminator 2, a landfill site, Super Mario and Heaven. I’ve also played table football, the Trials version of Angry Birds (WP), a first person shooter, a high jump competition and even a basic point and click. I tried to find videos of all of these tracks, but I’ve only been able to find decent videos of five of them.

RedLynx are actually releasing extra tracks through Track Central. They are the creators behind the first three of my videos, as well as the table football game. Redlynxlive is the gamertag for which you need to look. “Spelunked” is a track that takes players through a disused and dangerous mine.

“Angry Bikers” is the Trials equivalent of Angry Birds, although the title should have given it away.

“FPS Target Range” is their first person shooter. The aiming is horrendous in this game, which is why the player misses so many shots. I’m just impressed that you can create something like this in a track editor.

“Terminator 2” is a recreation of the infamous motorcycle chase sequence in the film of the same name. The track creator is suttonleo2. As a Trials track, the unclear driving line makes this a poor track on its own. The incredible surroundings more than make up for that though.

I don’t really need to explain that “Super Mario Trials” is a recreation of the Super Mario games. The track contains a few nasty surprises. The pipes at 1:04 are just evil, and the bits at 1:57 and 2:25 still get me every time.

I guess that I’ll post my full views on this game in many blog posts to come. Oh yes, there’s a new riddle too. When I find out what it means, I’ll let you know.
Posted by punkyliar on 28 April 12 at 23:06 | Last edited on 29 April 12 at 10:04 | There is 1 comment on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.