So Is Evoland Any Good?

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If you’ve been browsing indie games on Steam, Humble Bundle, or GoodOldGames over the last year or so you might have noticed Evoland, if only at a glance, and maybe wondered for a second whether it was any good. It might even be in your Steam backlog. After a Giant Bomb quick look I got interested enough to actually boot up the game and take a look. Ultimately it’s a pretty good idea that probably could have had a meatier game devoted to it.

Evoland advertises itself as a trip through the history of action adventure games and RPGs. In practice it toes the line between fan game and capable parody game, its unique gameplay element being introducing the advancements in the genre as actual items to collect in-game.

I have to admit, getting items that drastically change how the world is presented and what you can do in it feels pretty cool. Opening a chest that all of a sudden doubles the number of directions in which you can walk, or grants you a life bar, can immediately and drastically alter what you’re doing.

At the same time, the old school-style gameplay to be found in Evoland is actually pretty well-designed despite being very simple (even compared to the games Evoland emulates). The turn-based combat feels nice and quick for anyone who enjoys JRPGs. . There’s no mana system so it’s pretty much just attacking and healing , but there’s no too much of this combat unless you get seriously lost on the world map. One dungeon in the game — which pretty much tries to be a dungeon out of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, offers some surprisingly well-done puzzle-based gameplay and a suitably challenging boss fight. There’s even one area of the game that took me totally by surprise by parroting gameplay I didn’t expect it to. Let’s just say Evoland is a pretty shameless Zelda and Final Fantasy parody up until a certain point.

The thing is though, Evoland is a very small game. It took me just over two hours to see the credits, and at that point it told me I’d seen around 85 percent of all the content. This doesn’t really give players enough time between getting each new game feature, as you collect them at a rapid pace. What level design is there is well-crafted, there just isn’t a whole lot of it.

For some reason the parody game I keep comparing Evoland to is 3D Dot Game Heroes on the PS3. Both use parody in gameplay elements and end up featuring genuinely good game design on their own merits, but of course 3D Dot was made by a much larger team and printed on $40 discs.

BULLETS:

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Why I Prefer GameFly’s Movie Rental Service

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It’s been a couple weeks since GameFly started renting out movies but I guess I should go ahead and talk about it since I intend to use the new service a lot. In a time when I’m unsure how to rent movies anymore, the service I’m already subscribed to offers what almost feels like a godsend.

If you don’t know, GameFly started offering DVDs and Blu-Rays at the beginning of April, and it looks like a pretty generous service. It adds no extra cost on top of the existing game rental service and movies are available with no delay from their retail release. So basically we now have a robust mail-in service for renting both movies and video games.

I loved Netflix back when it was known as a movie mail-in service. For just $8 a month I rented movies at a pretty rapid pace. I got so used to it that I really felt the damage when Netflix agreed to delay new movies for 30 days. When Netflix upped the price by separating the streaming (which it sees as the future now) and mail services and other companies started rolling out pay-per-rental plans I realized producers had decided Netflix’s model was too generous. The only reason it got off the ground in the first place is because everybody thought it was crazy in the beginning.

I could never get comfortable with paying $5 to rent one movie for a few days when for just $3 more I could get a whole month of Netflix. I know the $5 is basically identical to the old Blockbuster system, just digital, but I felt like Netflix was a step forward. Redbox also feels like part of the old system because it has late feels. Basically, I feel like the film industry has forced the rental business to take a step back for the sake of profits.

GameFly movie rentals seem like a return to the old Netflix system, just for a higher price that includes video games. I’m already using it to catch up on last year’s Oscars, and it seems like I’ll be catching up and keeping up with much more this year because of the service.

For some reason, at the end of the month GameFly is gonna get a ton of anime, including basically every Studio Ghibli movie that’s currently out on Blu-Ray in North America. I’ve been holding off on watching most Ghibli movies until I can get them on Blu-Ray, so GameFly is about to save me a ton of money as I will likely spend the summer on some kind of Ghibli/Miyazaki odyssey. Eventually I’ll probably end up buying some of these movies.

I think the reason GameFly is able to do this when Netflix can’t is 1) Netflix is mostly a streaming service these days where GameFly is still about mail, 2) GameFly’s price is a bit higher than Netflix’s, and 3) Producers probably don’t pay as much attention to GameFly. I wonder if this might increase GameFly’s appeal to the point where it does catch some more attention.

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ArmA II: Getting Lost In The Editor

I’ve put about 15 hours into ArmA II and I haven’t even touched the main campaign, much less multiplayer. I already talked about the game’s massive tertiary armory mode. After that came its extremely flexible and easy-to-use level editor.

The editor in ArmA II isn’t one of those things they built specifically for modders who already know the game’s code. It’s pretty much a straight graphic user interface that any common player can use once they figure out how the logic of the AI and mission objectives work. The funny thing is, I haven’t even really been making my own missions, but rather doing everything else the editor makes possible.

If you want you can use it to just explore the entirety ArmA II’s massive world using whatever vehicle or aircraft you want — and there are some interesting locations to see. It’s also a great way to test or practice every weapon, vehicle, and aircraft the game has to offer without having to unlock all of them in the armory. I’ve been using the mode to set up battles.

By simply putting groups of opposing characters in the world you can get them to fight, and you can put them in whatever town, forest, or other location you want. You can even choose to play as any one of these characters which brings about its own interesting dynamics. A big part of what makes ArmA so impressive is how dynamic and complex its AI system is. Every squad spawned into the editor has a leader who gives the others orders according to the mission objectives he’s been given. These orders change fluidly in response to whatever’s happening as they all call out enemy positions and other information to each other. You can play as the leader and take control of the squad, but you can also play as another member and simply receive orders form an AI which kind of feels like a Call of Duty game but far more dynamic.

Knowing this, I was able to set up multiple squads around certain areas and give them objectives (like “seek and destroy”) that would bring them into contact with enemies, and the AI would just handle the rest. It was pretty amazing the first time I saw a squad leader begin automatically assigning targets and maneuvers as soon as he came into contact with the enemy. Before long I’d set up a battle with possibly close to 100 characters fighting for control over a castle on top of a forested mountain. Sometimes the battle would take place in the castle, sometimes in the forest. That’s possibly the best part of all — no battle in ArmA happens the same way twice. You can replay the same scenario over and over and get a different experience each time.

If I spend any more time with this I might be able to figure out how to get squads into helicopters and drop them off into battle zones while other aircraft are going at it above them. Or I could just check out all the missions people have already made with a lot more experience with the editor. Someone already recreated Ghost Recon Island Thunder.

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The Appeal Of Tactical Shooters

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Even though I said I shut the book on the original Ghost Recon on Monday, afterwards I decided to at least try out the expansion packs Desert Siege and Island Thunder. As of this writing I’m most of the way through Siege as I finally commit to a long-planned sincere attempt at tactical shooters. I think there are two main elements that differentiate hardcore military simulators from most other shooters, including modern games that call themselves tactical shooters.

The most intimidating element of them is of course the high lethality — in most cases one or two bullets will kill a character in these games. That one thing drastically changes almost the entire experience. When you’re being shot at in most shooters it doesn’t matter at all, but in games like ArmA and Ghost Recon it’s seriously intense. To that end, those games have distinct sound effects for bullets hitting near you. As opposed to the hundreds of dudes you mow down in Call of Duty, winning a Ghost Recon or ArmA gunfight with just four or five enemies feels like an achievement. Most importantly though, the high lethality rule turns a shooter into a less visceral and more cerebral game, which is what really goes counter to mainstream shooters.

For instance, in Ghost Recon if an enemy knows your location and you both get behind cover, if you peek out from the same place where the enemy last saw you, he’ll probably take you out almost instantly. Also, when you shoot at enemies they immediately hit the deck and find cover. In games like these flanking tactics are far more important, and you can pretty much never rush into situations. The main thing that turns people away from true tactical shooters is that they quickly punish you for any mistake, but it’s a distinct taste that offers its own fun if you’re willing to find it.

Other than some interface issues, the only thing about Ghost Recon I’ll say feels outdated is how it handles indoor combat. The 2001 game takes a broad approach to combat that works for its massive, open-ended maps. You spend most of your time shooting at guys in open fields 150 yards away, but that same apparatus becomes clumsy once you have to clear a building. I can almost never order units to enter buildings without them getting shot, and when doing it myself enemies often aim and shoot faster than I can react. In a game about shooting at enemies before they see you, it’s tough to do that when you’re breaking into their houses unless your sniper perched somewhere can see them through windows.

I think the most fundamental difference from normal shooters brought on by things like high lethality and more tactical AI is the loss of player empowerment. Most mainstream games today are about making players feel cool and powerful. Assassin’s Creed wants to make you feel like the baddest guy in the room. Halo wants you to feel like a supersoldier. Call of Duty wants to make you feel like the badass protagonist of a military thriller. Ghost Recon, ArmA, and other military simulators make you feel like an ordinary soldier, or at most a Special Forces guy who despite being geared up is far from invincible. You feel vulnerable, or at least as if you’re on the same playing field as the enemy, and you have to actually use your brain to win.

The feeling reminds me of the classic Thief games — how Garrett never feels like a badass but rather a guy who’s just slightly more skilled than those around him and can die from just one mistake. That seems to be a common trait of older immersive simulators. System Shock 2 makes the player feel perpetually at-risk and Ultima Underworld starts players off in a notably weak state.

The older Resident Evil games are what I would compare this feeling to on consoles — that sense of having to really think about every decision you make, and every enemy feeling like a real threat. The modern Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II are similar to these kinds of games as well due to how even common enemies in them actually use defensive tactics and need to be outmaneuvered. The most recent and relevant example though is probably Dark Souls — a game that never lets players feel invincible.

The other main element that sets tactical shooters apart is how open-ended they are. I touched on this in Monday’s post, but I really think it’s arguably the most important thing about these games. It’s definitely the most appealing thing for me and the element I’d like to see make a return in mainstream shooters.

I can understand Ubisoft making the modern Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six games more forgiving, but I think they threw the baby out with the bathwater when they also made the games more linear. A big reason these games were called “tactical” shooters is because players could actually plan their own tactics. Each mission in OG Ghost Recon is an open map where you decide what path to take and in what order to complete objectives, including optional objectives. I don’t see how that makes a game more difficult or intimidating.

The main reason I started playing these games now is because playing through Assassin’s Creed III’s (ironically an open-world game) linear main missions gave me a taste for something with a greater sense of freedom. I don’t think that has to be mutually exclusive to the “one hit and you’re dead” system. Why can’t there be military shooters that still offer player empowerment while also offering the level of player choice displayed in hardcore tactical shooters? Far Cry 2 almost got there but is too shallow an experience, and Far Cry 3 made all its main missions linear again. I think Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the closest modern game to what I’m asking for.

Basically, one of my dream games would be a tactical shooter that isn’t so punishing but still gives the player total control over the mission plan.

BULLETS:

  • I’d forgotten about that American remake of District 13. Didn’t know Paul Walker and David Belle were in it either. Looks promising. https://t.co/6aZNycwDCW
  • Wired has a pretty glowing write-up of that Nintendo F2P game. wrd.cm/1jwh5Lj
  • First screenshots of that Daisuke Jigen movie. http://t.co/PYSFN2izSW
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How The Smash Bros. Release Dates Illustrate Nintendo’s Current Problems

Overall the Super Smash Bros. Nintendo Direct this week brought a lot of hype, but the big takeaway for most people was likely the heavily staggered release dates of the 3DS and Wii U versions. Once again the 3DS seems like it’s possibly cannibalizing the Wii U.

In my opinion, if Nintendo really can get the 3DS version out before September then I’d really like to have my portable Smash as soon as possible. Nintendo and Namco are probably trying like hell to get the Wii U version out this year but I guess it can’t be helped. It’s just another sign of how difficult HD console development has been for Nintendo.

For people watching the market the big fear is that people won’t see the need for the Wii U version when it finally comes out, having been playing the 3DS version for months. I guess that depends on how much unique content the Wii U version has, but back when we believed they’d be launching simultaneously I was already considering just getting the 3DS version. The Wii U really needs unique software to sell it, and almost all Nintendo’s serving up right now is sequels or enhanced versions of 3DS games.

Right now though the 3DS doesn’t have an extremely robust lineup for 2014 either. Getting Smash out in the summer is sure to bolster it, but between now and then the system has maybe five notable games coming out. That’s a stark contrast from last year’s avalanche, but at E3 Nintendo will likely continue its policy of announcing games for it that’ll be out before the end of the year. Let’s just hope they can manage the same for Wii U.

The situation with Smash is actually a bit ironic for me. I’ve wanted a handheld Smash game for a long time, but now that we’re getting one in a few months I’ve started to ask myself “Do I need the console version in this case?” Nintendo’s robust handheld software libraries have never posed a threat to its console lineup till now because this is the first time the two platforms have been able to run roughly the same kinds of games. Maybe the issue is Nintendo hasn’t been making enough games with gameplay only possible on powerful hardware. Maybe we’re reaching a point where handheld and console need to converge.

This is likely the reasoning behind Nintendo’s merging its handheld and console hardware divisions in early 2012. Two future platforms with similar architecture would be a great way for Nintendo to solve this problem.

BULLETS:

  • Original DS games hold up surprisingly well at high resolutions. http://t.co/cI1moCKHjr
  • Stunned at Ultimate Warrior’s passing. RIP.
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ArmA II: Getting Lost In The Armory

Playing 40 hours of Assassin’s C reed III over the last couple weeks made me tired of AAA games that hold your hand as much as Ubisoft likes to these days. By the time I finished it I was in the mood for a much more open-ended action game, and for some reason that meant military simulators. Between now and the PC launch of Dark Souls II I’ve chosen to mess around with ArmA II and its utterly shocking amount of freedom and content.

First I decided to mess with Ubisoft’s own original Ghost Recon. I ended up deciding not to finish it since losing my original save file, but I did mess around with it for one last time. Like a lot of mainstream gamers, I find its “one-hit death” rule pretty intimidating, but I keep coming back to the game because it’s the only one in that franchise that gives me the elbow room to plan the execution of each mission myself instead of running from waypoint to waypoint. The real tragedy of tactical shooters is that developers have forgotten that’s the real appeal of them.

After closing the book on Ghost Recon I went to ArmA II because I had a barely-played copy sitting around, it (along with its sequel) is almost the only true tactical shooter made for modern hardware, and there’s more to do in it than most AAA games I’ve ever seen. I meant to mess around with some main singleplayer content but ended up spending hours in a completely tertiary mode.

If you haven’t touched an ArmA game, try to imagine Battlefield 4 but in an open world at least as large as Grand Theft Auto V and with less forgiving game mechanics. When I originally tried ArmA II what initially blew me away about it is how it tries to simulate the battlefield chain of command, having each character’s AI constantly reacting to and communicating with other AI. Commanders will send orders down to troops who will call out locations to each other, and absolutely none of it is scripted. ArmA II is also one of the buggiest and cheaply put-together military shooters I’ve ever seen, but you can’t help but still appreciate the sheer magnitude of what it attempts.

The meat of the game is the multiplayer, and the stuff I described above mostly comes into play in the main campaign, the extra scenarios, and the many fan missions that have been made for the game. I’ve been caught up in the ArmA II’s “Armory” mode — basically a sandbox mode where you get to try out every single weapon, vehicle, and character model. It includes a very basic but extremely replayable series of challenges.

Basically, ArmA 2’s Armory mode has you do pre-made challenge objectives in randomly selected places on its world map. That world map is so large that I honestly don’t know if I can run out of different challenges to play. I might play the “Assassinate the VIP” mission a dozen times, but there is so much space in which it could randomly generate that the mission might never happen the same way or in the same place twice. And you can do this with seemingly hundreds of different weapons, vehicles, and characters which you unlock through the challenges. I could easily see myself spending 30-plus hours on what was probably an afterthought feature. Then there’s the easy-to-use level editor.

I think that gets down to the real allure of ArmA for me. Most people might play it to experience realistic military combat, but ArmA II is also an enormous toy chest of military shooter scenarios. It and its sequel feel like an extremely stark departure from an industry of linear cinematic shooters.

BULLETS:

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Immersive Sims: Old And New

On Monday USGamer published another one of my articles. It revisited the idea of great PC games even your crappy laptop will run, this time focusing on the thousands of old school classics available digitally today. More specifically, it focused on what some would call “Immersive Simulators” which were influential in PC games of the past and have become influential to today’s console games.

I think the best way to describe immersive sim game design would be to say it occurs when developers design worlds to behave more like real places than video game levels. The “simulation” part of the term doesn’t mean realistic at all, but rather that these games sit the player in a world of factors that affect each other, and allow them to manipulate those factors. The designers of Ultima Underworld – the game that spawned this whole subgenre, said they wanted to make a world that was “sensible,” meaning it behaved in a believable way based on dynamic mechanics rather than scripting.

If you’ve played the recent Elder Scrolls or Fallout games, Deus Ex Human Revolution, the recent THIEF, or Dishonored, you’ve experienced the progeny of this gameplay style. They all come from the same family tree and the same general circle of developers including Irrational Games (Bioshock) and Arkane Studios (Dishonored). A lot of people think those modern games lost a little something compared to their predecessors from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, mostly in areas like depth and actual immersion in favor of “gameyness.”

A great console example of immersive sim-style level design is GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64 and the original Perfect Dark after it. One of GoldenEye’s level artists explained that they basically designed the levels as if they were real buildings first, and planned the actual game design afterward. Another artist said, “The benefit of this sloppy unplanned approach was that many of the levels in the game have a realistic and non-linear feel. There are rooms with no direct relevance to the level. There are multiple routes across the level.” If you go back to them today, you’ll notice the two N64 classics feel a lot more open-ended and organic than the likes of Call of Duty.

I already did a whole blog post on how the original Crysis behaves in much the same way, and how its sequels feel much more like deliberately designed video games. I feel this is the change that happened to a lot of western games in varying degrees as they transferred to the PS3 and Xbox 360, including the immersive sims.

The most pronounced shift is in the Thief franchise to which I also devoted a blog post. An example of a more graceful transition might be how Deus Ex. Human Revolution focused very much on player choice, multiple routes, and environmental investigation, though it was a bit simplified compared to the original for the sake of people more used to mainstream shooters. Its game mechanics felt less like ever-present factors and more like solid gameplay rules. That seems to be the main difference between the old and new games — the newer ones play by stricter rules.

Bioshock is another example of this. Just look at this image comparing map sizes from the original System Shock all the way to Bioshock Infinite. The original Bioshock is very much about open environments and telling its story in those environments, but compared to System Shock which is a survival RPG,it’s much more geared towards fast-paced action shooting.

Of all the modern immersive sims, I think the ones that stick the closest to classic style are Betheseda’s recent games — Skyrim and Fallout 3 (I haven’t played Oblivion) as well as Obsidian’s Fallout New Vegas. If you haven’t played the classics mentioned above, Fallout 3 and New Vegas are probably the best modern approximation of what they’re like available on consoles. They feature worlds planned out like functioning places where you have near total freedom in how you manipulate characters and use your tools.

To me it feels like, on consoles, Bethesda is possibly the only publisher that has resisted how, “gamified” modern game design has become. Their games have their fair share of flaws but compared to most other AAA games these days they feel like a distinct resistance to the trend of  dolling out points and mechanics for the sake of positive reinforcement.

Just look at what happened between Far Cry 2 and Far Cry 3 for an example of the trend. (Far Cry 2 director Clint Hocking is another believer in sim-based game design, as he made Splinter Cell Chaos Theory another great example of the doctrine). FC2 tried very hard to feel like an immersive world with environments designed like places and missions heavy on player choice. FC3 constantly presents players with points to earn and its main missions are linear paths to waypoints.

This is why, for me, the most interesting upcoming games for PS4 and Xbox One are probably the next main Elder Scrolls, the new Deus Ex Square Enix confirmed, the next Fallout game, and Far Cry 4. I feel like these games have the most to gain from the new hardware. All these new games with next-gen graphics are great but honestly I’m a bit tired of beautiful environments where I do nothing but shoot. I’m ready to see next-gen graphics used for environments I can really explore and interact with.

BULLETS:

  • A game I talked about a while ago called Odallus: The Dark Call just passed Steam Greenlight. http://t.co/RvJjfOWhxI

One of my favorite 2012 games, FTL, is now available on iPad.https://t.co/cUnrqo7GoB

Fire TV: The First Good Android Console?

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Amazon’s new Fire TV looks like the first really  big attempt at what people have been speculating on for a while now — a transference of the existing mobile operating system market to the living room. Whether or not it actually gets off the ground, much less have an effect on the game industry, remains to be seen.

Mobile is of course the new course for mobile computing, and is tearing apart the traditional gaming handheld market. It’s been long speculated that Apple or Google could do something similar to living room computing and gaming. I think the Fire TV is the first real push for this.

The difference between the Fire TV and the Ouya and Roku is, well, Amazon. The Fire TV looks like it’s going to have a library of software that is both robust and structured. It’ll probably grow bigger than the Roku store and be better curated than Ouya’s store. The launch software lineup is proof enough how much strength the existing Android ecosystem gives Fire TV. You can already cheaply play games like Sonic The Hedgehog, NBA 2K14, and Deus Ex: The Fall on this thing. Not to mention the backing of big game publishers and the brand cloud of Amazon. This is similar to what people have been thinking Apple was bound to do with the Apple TV.

Of course the future of Fire TV depends on one thing — software support. Will the likes of EA, Ubisoft, SEGA, and Square Enix stay the course on it? Will mobile developers come to support it? What kind of difference will Amazon’s first party studios make (with guys like Clint Hocking on board)?

I’m not necessarily saying mobile games will instantly transfer to the TV, or that the people who play them will even want to do that on a TV. What’s possible however is that either big publishers might crack that market, or mobile publishers might start thinking about living room-oriented games for the mass audience that might choose a $99 box over a $400 console.

Make no mistake — if you already own that $400 console or a $1000 PC and are willing to pay $60 for games, you probably don’t need any of these little media boxes. What I’m talking about is the casual audience that could, in time, get sucked away from PlayStation and Xbox.

It could be as simple as someone deciding to pay $8 to play NBA 2K14 on the Fire TV instead of paying $60 to play it on the PS4 if they don’t care about the graphical differences. What if a developer lands a killer app with the exposure of Candy Crush but also the family gaming appeal of Wii Sports? What if Fire TV eventually get’s a free-to-play Mario Kart clone, or better yet the existing Android version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed?

That’s all purely speculation of course and likely a long way into the future. It could occur that living room gaming isn’t for the mass market at all outside a handful of popular console games. On the other hand, people are still waiting for Apple and Google to enter this arena. In the nearer term, it at least looks like Fire TV might be the final nail in Ouya’s coffin and a very good competitor to the Roku.

BULLETS:

  • Oh, and Microsoft just announced it’s bringing basically the whole Windows app store to Xbox One. That’s kinda big.
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Do’s And Don’ts Of Stealth Design And Assassin’s Creed

So I’m in the middle of Assassin’s Creed III right now, and I think it’s time to address one of the franchise’s biggest problems — how it handles stealth missions.

I actually went over this way back on 1up while playing Brotherhood, but it seems Ubisoft hasn’t learned a thing in the games they’ve made since. I haven’t played Black Flag yet but I’m hearing a lot of the same complaints of it. I feel like when a developer makes a stealth game, there are certain things they need to do to make sure stealth isn’t frustrating. Ubisoft doesn’t seem to have learned any of these rules in regards to the main missions in Assassin’s Creed.

Mostly I’m talking about any mission where you automatically fail if you’re detected even once. If you’ve played any of these games you know what I’m talking about: the missions where if a guard sees you even for an instant you fail, or the tailing missions. Whoever designs those I think doesn’t understand what makes stealth games fun.

Automatic failure upon detection in my opinion is one of the things that pushes mainstream gamers away from stealth games entirely. I don’t mind if a game has conditions that make things harder upon detection, or even does something that invariably kills the player as long as it’s in an organic way, but using hard fail states just feels lazy and unfair.

There are other games that define a difference between detection by one NPC and full alert. I like how in Metal Gear Solid an enemy who’s seen Snake has to actually call HQ on his radio and fully describe the problem before a full alert is on. Yet in Assassin’s Creed I’ll often fail a mission because one guy saw me a split second before I stabbed him in the gut.

Stealth games in my opinion only become truly enjoyable when they’re open-ended. Stealth games aren’t really only stealth games — the best ones are stealth and action games. Stealth only really feels cool when players choose it as opposed to going into full-on open combat. Ideally players should want to do this because their environment changes based on stealth or detection.

Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes actually has a pretty good example of this. One of its side missions puts you in the middle of an open base with two targets to kill. If you’re detected the mission doesn’t fail immediately, but the targets will try to escape and you have to take them out before they do.

Okay, so what if a stealth mission has an objective that’s impossible without stealth — like tailing someone. There are stealth games that offer multiple ways to complete objectives. In Ubisoft’s own Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, if you need to get some information you often have the choice of interrogating people, eavesdropping on conversations, or finding notes. Actually, didn’t the original Assassin’s Creed let players choose between similar methods of completing objectives?

If the story written for the game mandates one specific gameplay path then maybe it should be rewritten. Maybe tailing missions don’t necessarily need to be in Assassin’s Creed at all. Maybe the story should service the gameplay instead of the other way around. I know they’re trying to keep things historically accurate, but Ubisoft also has to make a fun game.

BULLETS:

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Final Fantasy X: RPGs Past And Future

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Starting up the HD remaster of Final Fantasy X has given me my first opportunity to look at it since completing Final Fantasy XIII. The two are often compared, usually in criticisms of the latter. I’ve always felt like there are stark differences between the two games that are really important when it comes to FFXIII’s reception.

The leading issue with FFXIII and fans in the years since its release has been its linearity. Instead of exploring a vast world map you pretty much just spend 60 hours running down corridors that blur the line between RPG and cinematic action game. In every discussion I’ve seen about this someone eventually snaps back citing how FFX is equally linear. I agree the two games are possibly more similar to each other than to any other main FF game. When you think about it FFXIII is sort of the logical conclusion of some of the things FFX started. FFX was the first game in the series with voice acting, the first 3D entry with lots of real time cut scenes, and it uses a ton of what are essentially scripted events during gameplay.  Maybe that similarity between the two games is what makes their differences all the more important.

Most of FFX is indeed a straight line like FFXIII, but I think the main difference is what you do along that straight line.

My main issue with FFXIII was always that you pretty much just watched cut scenes and fought monsters for the whole game, which wears thin over the course of 60 hours. FFX on the other hand features towns full of non-player characters to talk to, shops to browse, inns to stay at, secrets to be found, and quests to complete. In a sense, FFX still manages to feature a tangible world despite the heavy linearity of its map. In it you still do most of the things people associate with role-playing games.

FFX’s story furthers this too. The game is about a group’s pilgrimage across the world, so the feeling of a globetrotting journey that’s near ubiquitous in classical Japanese RPGs is still present. FFXIII feels more like an action game briskly taking you from event to event. In general I think FFX manages to skillfully dodge a lot of the problems people have with classical JRPGs too.

I’ve had a lot of problems with the genre, mostly dealing with its mechanical stagnation in the face of western RPGs that try to offer the most open-ended worlds they can. And yet, I don’t really disdain FFX’s random battles, character tropes, and anime designs at all. It feels like a just-fresh-enough take on just why people like JRPGs.

When I first played the game back in 2001, even though I saw it as a basic kids-save-the-world story, it was immediately apparent there was something more to the story, world, and characters, even if that was only the flavor of the storytelling. To this day FFX’s character designs also stick out at me because of how cohesive they are with the world (excluding Lulu) and how unique they are among RPGs. How many Final Fantasy games have deliberately Asian-looking settings? The battle system is random and turn-based, but simultaneously offered new flavors of old mechanics while keeping those mechanics impressively well-balanced.

Look I’m just saying. I think a lot of people complain about FFXIII while ignoring its similarities to FFX because FFX still does what it needs to do to feel like the traditional JRPG many fans expect. In a lot of ways it’s about as condensed as the traditional formula can get before it starts to become something else.

BULLETS:

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