Gaming Journal: November 2, 2012 – DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM

This week it was Halloween! Sadly, I was unable to get any time with my holiday-standby series, Castlevania. However! I still got plenty of Halloween gaming in with DOOM, and DOOM II.

DOOM

Not much to report; they’re DOOM. If you’ve ever played a game in the series, you know what you’re getting into: frenetic demon blasting, monster closets, and massive guns. I was surprised at just how well the experience holds up. It harkens back to a time where first person shooters were much more goofy, over-the-top, and self aware. They were about gameplay and just being all out nuts rather than linear, overly-cinematic light shows centered around set pieces and “realism.”

Anyway, I beat both Halloween night. Took me a few hours, but was well worth it. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I’m considering picking up the recently released Painkiller HD pack from Steam. Very similar in terms of gameplay, atmosphere, and setting. Look for more on that in the weeks to come.

The Elder Scrolls IV: The Shivering Isles

As mentioned last week, I have been feeling the black hole-like pull of Bethesda’s RPGs trying to rope me back in now that I’ve knocked out Dark Souls. To  quench this thirst, I re-installed The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion last weekend. Now, I love The Elder Scrolls series, and I love Fallout 3; but Oblivion feels so drab and boring compared to Morrowind and Skyrim. Hell, even Daggerfall feels more dynamic in terms of environments, quests, and things to do and see.

That’s not to say I don’t like Oblivion, it’s a gorgeous game still to this day, and having a PC that can play it on entirely maxed out settings is great. But it’s just one big green forest. There are some planes here and there, some coastal hills and a few big rivers and lakes, but it’s just kinda meh to look at. So instead of wondering around Cyrodiil, I opted to play through The Shivering Isles expansion instead. I have never completed the main quest in Isles, so this felt like an entirely new TES experience for me.

Despite superior art direction, The Shivering Isles is still hindered by Oblivion‘s design and graphics engine.

 

The landscape is far more varied and interesting — at times being very reminiscent of Morrowind at times. The characters and dialogue are FAR more interesting than the somewhat cliche fantasy tropes of Oblivion. I completed the main quest and enjoyed my time in the realm of Sheogorath, but overall the gameplay, music, and world design of Oblivion are nowhere near as good as the other TES games I’ve mentioned.  As it stands, it’s probably my least favorite of the series, even with the enhancements from The Shivering Isles. I’m thinking I’ll give Fallout 3  a go sometime over the Holidays, then return to Skyrim once I’ve returned peace the the Wasteland…

But none of the really matters seeing as how Halo 4 comes out in four days, and is getting ridiculously great review scores.

So. Stoked.

Anyway, that was my week’s worth of gaming. What did you guys play?

Games Played This Week: DOOM; DOOM II: Hell on Earth; The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion/The Shivering Isles

Games Completed

October 2012: 
  • Dark Souls [and Artorias of the Abyss DLC]
  • DOOM
  • DOOM II: Hell on Earth
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: The Shivering Isles

 

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Gaming Journal; Oct. 26, 2012

Defeated.

I beat Dark Souls.

It was a quick, surprisingly easy battle with Gwyn, Lord of Cinder. Myself and the ever-helpful WanderingMoogle, a fellow player who helped me out on more than one occasion. Thanks to you sir or madam (whomever you are).

But yeah, the battle was quick, easy, and the ending was appropriately brief. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: Dark Souls is a phenomenal game, and a great hardcore RPG experience. It’s not for everyone. but damn is it good. I’d say it’s tied with Skyrim as my favorite game of this generation (and that’s against games like Mass Effect 2, Rayman: Legends,  Metroid Prime 3, and Halo: Reach, just to name a few). I also completed the Artorias of the Abyss DLC. Took me  a few hours, but seeing as how it was the very last thing I did before Gwyn, it wasn’t too difficult to complete. The bosses were cool, and I liked the new areas pretty well, but if you decide to skip out on the content for now you’re not missing much. There are some cool secrets and plot lines, but it’s all pretty isolated and doesn’t pertain too much to the story other than giving some background by making you play through (and cause) events mentioned in the main story.

Obviously, after the game was over I immediately began NG+ as was astounded at the fact I completed in 45 minutes what it took me a few days to complete on my first character. Anyway, I’ll probably get a but further in NG+ then put Dark Souls down for a bit… but I’ll be back soon enough.

Need more of this in my life…

Other than Dark Souls I cranked out more Doom 3: BFG Edition and got some hands-on time with Odin Sphere. I’m enjoying both, but seeing as how both Hawken AND Mechwarrior Online begin their closed betas this weekend and Halo 4 is just a couple weeks away, I probably won’t get too much time with them for a few weeks. Neither game has really hooked me either, and to top it off have been hearing the siren call of Bethesda’s RPGs after the impressions for The Elder Scrolls: Online hit. I’m glad to hear that they’re changing up the combat; mostly that it won’t be standard MMO cooldowns, but more of a focused version of Skyrim’s combat. But more importantly, I’m very pleased to hear that players can, in fact, explore the world without too much restriction.

I could use a new RPG; Dark Souls is complete, and I have yet to get my hands on The Dark Spire, so maybe it’s time to return to Skyrim… or Cyrodiil… or Morrowind… or The Wasteland…

And let’s not forget: it’s Halloween next week. That means I’m gonna be playing a lot of Castlevania.

Games Played This Week: Dark Souls; Doom 3: BFG Edition; Odin Sphere

Games Completed

October 2012: 
  • Dark Souls [and Artorias of the Abyss DLC]

So yeah, that was my week. What did you guys play?

 

Gaming Journal: October 19, 2012

Gaming Journal: Oct. 19, 2012

Hey guys. So in an effort to give myself something else to post about, I’m going to start keeping a weekly gaming journal. At this point, I’m gonna aim for Fridays, same day as Shootin’ runs as well. I’m figuring I’ll have updates to make in between each regular Friday post when something important happens or a complete a game, etc. I’m going to keep a tally for the game’s I played that week, and how many games I’ve completed each month. I’ve got a pretty long list of games to get through, most of which are rather lengthy, so there will be plenty of content each week. Any way, without further ado, here’s what I played this week.

Games played this week: Dark Souls; Legend of Grim Rock; Dungeons of Dredmor; Doom 3: BFG

Leeeeorrooy!

I made some good progress in Dark Souls this week. Took out Nito and Seath the Scaleless, as well as went back and downed the Stray Demon. Currently making my way through the New Londo Ruins to take down the Four Kings. I’ve found these past few bosses to be relatively easy, especially post-Ornstein/Smough. It might just be because my character’s build is getting solid and I’ve got a wide range of armor and rings for pretty much any occasion, but I’m not struggling against the bosses and in fact, I can’t recall many who gave me any real trouble besides the Capra Demon, Ornstein and Smough, and my early attempts against Sif. At any rate, I’m stoked I’m nearing the end of this bad boy after taking several months off. I’ll keep you updated as I near to the close.

For those who are interested, I’m rolling a Pyromancer, currently using Leeroy’s Paladin armor set but swapping for the Black Iron gloves and helm; Havel’s Ring and Ring of Steel Protection; Zweihander +7 and Knight Sheild +7.

 

Dungeons of Dredmor

Besides Dark Souls, I also got in some RPG goodness with Legend of Grimrock and Dungeons of Dredmor. Like Dark Souls, I took some time off from Grimrock after playing it quite a bit earlier this year, but I was able to pick up right where I left off and cleared a couple more floors this week (now on level 9). Dredmor is just a fun diversion. I have no idea if there’s an end-game, and even if there is, I die so often (and play so casually) I’ll probably never see it.


The other big game I played this week was DOOM 3: BFG Edition. I’m a Doom 3 fan (some might say apologist, but I say there’s nothing to be sorry for), being the first game I ever upgraded my PC for and I was happy to see it plays just the same it is did years ago. Sure, it’s just monster closet after monster closet, but dammit IT’S FUN! I got in about an hour and a half with Doom 3, but seeing as how the collection includes the entire DOOM trilogy, I have plenty of demon blasting in my future. Will I complete all three games? I’m not entirely sure. But I plan on at least seeing Doom 3 and the Ressurection of Evil expansion through to completion.

Just as a quick reference, here’s my list of games I plan on playing through; some are games I’ve played through before and want to go back to, others I haven’t completed, and other still are future games I plan on playing once they’re released. More will be added, and I’ll keep a running tally as I complete them. In no particular order:

Dark Souls
Legend of Grimrock
Doom 3: BFG
Halo 4
Hawken
MechWarrior Online
Dishonored
Far Cry 3
The Banner Saga
Ultima Forever
The Dark Spire
Morrowind
Fallout 3
Planescape: Torment
Skyrim
Artorias Abyss DLC
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Odin Sphere
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

Okay, that’s it for me this week, but I want to know you you guys are playing too! Post a comment, let’s get a discussion going!

A rant about videogame graphics, and why they suck.

Let’s have a quick nibble of the retro-shroom and take a trip to nostalgia-land.

You’re a young gamer, holding in your hands the Nintendo 64’s tri-pronged controller, eyes glued to the curved, glowing surface of the CRT television. Your green tunic wearing hero has just crossed the massive green field of Hyrule, and are approaching the massive stone walls of the city. Suddenly, the skies turn black, and from the arched entryway a white horse with two riders — The Princess Zelda and her guardian Impa — gallop across the bridge and off into the distance. The look on Zelda’s face is one of fear and sadness as she turns to look at Link. They’re running from something — or someone. Standing in the pouring rain, Link turns to see their pursuer: the massive desert warrior Ganndorf with fire-like hair sitting atop an armored horse. He cracks a smile, lifts his hand, and sends Link flying with a magical shock from his fingertips.

That was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of not just my young gaming life, but many others’. It’s one of those event you hold on to and remember; the way it felt, sounded, and of course, the way it looked.

Well, as I’m sure many have done, going back to the game today, it looks like shit. No I’m serious. It’s muddy, smeary textures wrapped around sharp polygonal models in flimsy, bare environments. Now, compare that against the Zelda of the SNES era, A Link to the past: vibrant colored sprites, intricately designed maps, and charming (albeit simple) animations. It looks just a good as the first time you laid eyes on it.

Not exactly the sprawling land we remember it to be.

Why is that? Because 2D graphics don’t depreciate in quality. They may not be quite as impressive as 3D graphics, but games like Super Metroid, Yoshi’s Island, Super CastleVania IV, Street Fighter, and the early Square RPGs look exactly the same as they did when they were the height of game design and graphical power.

But 3D games? Pop in an N64, Ps2 — or hell, even an early game from the current generation — and you’ll find the experience hampered by the now-archaic graphics. Some times, games will even be unplayable. Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy gorgeous graphics as much as the next guy. Games like Uncharted, Skyrim, and at the time Doom 3 and Half Life 2 left me floored by how gorgeous they looked. But in a few years time? They’ll be eclipsed by the next cutting-edge engine, and their experiences diminished due to a major reliance on the visual components of these games (if they haven’t been already).

More of this…

I’m not advocating a return to 2D game design here. Many of my favorite genres and favorite moments happened thanks to the evolution of 3D gaming. Instead, I’m trying to point out a very common misconception: powerful, more realistic graphics do little to heighten an experience. Instead, its art design and atmosphere. In the past I’ve discussed several games I feel have great art design, most of which are 3D games. It’s their art design that make them so memorable. Metroid Prime, Mass Effect, Shadow of the Colossus, and — the Bilbo Baggins of 3D games — Wind Waker, are all memorable because of how they looked. I use the Ocarina of Time example specifically because it was recently re-released with updated graphics — everything from the textures, to the models, to the animation and lighting has been overhauled, and it looks great, mostly due to the art direction being better realized on the new engine.

…less of this.

As we begin to see graphical leaps diminish, it’s really only a matter of time before we reach a plateau. My concern though is that I don’t want that plateau to be filled with games stretching for “realism;” I want games with unique and impactful art design. I don’t need any more Call of Duties, but I could certainly use more Bastions and Dust Forces. AAA development seems to be crumbling, and many developers — indie and otherwise — seem to be flocking to creative game design. Hopefully, this will mean less emphasis on graphic power, and more attention being given to gameplay, art, and atmosphere. We could full well be moving into a new golden age of video games — that is, just as long as we give up these notions of “realism” and “powerhouse graphics,” and focus on what matters and what makes this medium is so unique.

Brendan’s Top 10 Best Videogame Soundtracks

My two favorite forms of media entertainment are videogames and music. Obviously, I enjoy to occasional TV show or movie, listen to quite a few podcasts, and I actually read quite a bit as well. But when push comes to shove, if I’ve got time to space I’d almost always prefer spending with a controller in my hand or headphones over my ears. Luckily enough, videogames are a pretty great source of good music. And to be clear, I don’t mean themes — there are tons of great videogame themes The Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, Halo, Uncharted, etc. I mean full on soundtracks. Granted, as games try harder and harder to be movies, we’re left with far less memorable, overly “epic” orchestrated scores that begin to blend together. But there are still some that manage to be impactful and memorable, not to mention the myriad of retro games whose 8- and 16-bit soundtracks went on to inspire an entire genre of music.. Anyway, enough blathering — here are my 10 favorite videogame soundtracks.

10. Brutal Legend

Is it unfair of me to include this game? Probably, but I’m doing it anyway because I love metal. Brutal Legend is a metal-as-fuck game about metal that uses over 100 awesome metal songs in some of the most metal ways ever. The end.

Not only that, but there was a bunch of original music composed for the game as well.

9. Rayman: Origins

Rayman is near and dear to me. While others were picking mushrooms some fat plumber in a pedo stache and suspenders, I was off exploring the magical dreamland of Rayman. The music in the series has always been important. Often, entire sections of the games would be centered around musical notes and timing. But no matter if the music was integral to the gameplay, or just background to it, the dream-like world of Rayman was brought to life by its music. Rayman: Origins is by far my favorite game in the series, and it also features without a doubt the series’ best music.

8. Castlevania 2

Halloween is my favorite Holiday. Many of my favorite death metal and doom metal bands are that way because they sound like Halloween. Every time I pop in a band like Hooded Menace or Graveyard, I feel like it’s Halloween. Castlevania 2 sounds like Halloween. It’s a bit dark, slightly creepy due to minor chord melodies (that are incredibly catchy). Castlevania 2 has probably my favorite NES soundtrack, and is the perfect example of 8-Bit chiptunes music.

7. Metal gear solid 3

Big Boss makes Chuck Norris look like a chump, and James Bond like a pansey. Hideo Kojima’s complex commentary on the future of war began with electro-symphonic rock, but when the series took us back in time, to delve into the inanity and insanity of the Cold War, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater took a page from 007, switching things up with funky, 60-era spy flick grooves, complete with it’s very own “Bond Song.” It’s one of my favorite theme songs to any piece of media ever.

6. Metroid Prime

Metroid always had spacey, strange sci-fi songs that offered an ominous sense of being alone on an alien planet. But Metroid Prime added another element: wonder. The beauty and detail of Tallon IV created a strong sense of place. It was lived in, there was history in every crevice and brick. Metroid Prime certainly made you feel alone, and the soundtrack is appropriately alien and sci-fi, but the wonder you feel when entering Chozo Ruins or Phendrana Drifts for the first time compel you to explore this planet in a way few other settings do, and a large part of that is due to the wonderful soundtrack, punctuating every new secret and discovery.

5. Dark Souls

For the most part, Dark Souls is silent. Often, the only soundtrack to your demise is the ambiance of you environment, and the menacing sounds of the enemies that hunt you. When music does kick in, it is usually understated, dark, melancholic — like the game itself. But when you find yourself face-to-face with the morbid and terrifying bosses of the game, the ordeals are scored by massive sections of brass horns and woodwinds, gothic choirs, piercing string instruments, and pummeling drums. Despite the overwhelming obstacles and depressing atmosphere, Dark Souls provides some of the strongest feelings of reward and accomplishment of any game, and the soundtrack underscores that struggle perfectly.

4. Shadow of the Colossus

Much like Dark Souls, Shadow of the Colossus is a quiet and understated game, for the most part. Traversing this empty land is a lonely and bleak affair; but felling the 16 hulking, majestic beasts that roam the land is daunting and terrifying. Each boss fight  is (again, much like Dark Souls) scored by songs as epic and awe-inspiring as the beasts themselves. And like Dark Souls, there is a sense of accomplishment with each victory. But unlike Dark Souls, you don’t feel like a hero — you feel like a monster. As you watch these beings die, you feel as if you’ve betrayed them of something for more important than just their life. And every note drives the tendrils of guilt deeper into you.

3. The Legend of Zelda (series)

I don’t have to say much here. There’s probably only one other series with as well know and iconic music in the world of videogames (and I didn’t even mention it on this list. GASP!). The Legend of Zelda is the music of my childhood; It’s music I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

2. Doom

C’mon.

1. Mass Effect

Mass Effect’s music is astounding. The synthetic elements of the songs meld into the organic sounds of tangible instruments. This creates and entirely unique sound — you know when you’re listening to a Mass Effect song. But it’s not just the fact that the songs are good, or memorable, or that they give the universe an identity, but that they make you feel something. The mysterious galaxy map song fills you with curiosity and wonder at the immensity of space; Mass Effect 3’s theme weighs down on you as you’re face with an inescapable fate; and the theme for Mass Effect 2’s Suicide Mission may be the most inspiring piece of music I’ve ever heard. Not matter what the final game did or did not do for you is irrelevant because no matter what, when the final moment comes you feel something.

Runner Ups:

Red Dead Redemption

Pokemon

Diablo series

Final Fantasy XII

The Elder Scrolls series

What are you favorite videogame soundtracks? Think I’m insane for including/forgetting something? Sound off in the comments! Also, suggest some other list ideas to me. I realize that they’ve been mostly broad topics, and thus result in a lot of cross over and feature similar games on each, and to be honest I’m running out of things to say about a lot of these games/series, but I still love doing lists. So if there’s a topic or idea you’ve got for a list, let me know in the comments as well, or email us at askpowercords@gmail.com!

Want more video game music? be sure to check out the latest episode of the Power Cast!

Game of the Week, March 7, 2012: Unreal Tournament 2004

It’s time for another Game of the Week, where our writers tells us all about their favorite games! This week, Brendan gets into the blood and guts of Unreal Tournament 2004.

I love the smell of gibs in the morning… There was a time before Halo, before Call of Duty, when multiplayer death match wasn’t fought with analogue sticks and SMG’s, but instead with giant rocket launchers and the mightest of all weapons: the mouse and keyboard.

I’m talking, of course, about the golden age of Arena Shooters. It started with DOOM and gained popularity through games like Quake, Starseige, and Unreal Tournament. There’s a wide range of opinions regarding which of these numerous games are the perfect representation of the genre, but for me, no game encapsulates the meaning of the arena shooter better than Unreal Tournament 2004.

What it is: Unreal Tournament is a fast-paced, futuristic first person shooter, released by Epic Games in 2004 (natch), and is the sequel to Unreal Tournament 2003 (which was actually released in 2002) and the original Unreal Tournament.

What defines this series of games (along with others in the Arena Shooter genre like Quake III) is the fast pace of combat. Players  dart and rocket jump around maps, firing massive weapons, and blow each other to bits — the “shooter” part Arena Shooter. These matches took place on maps — the “arena” part — that allowed for high mobility and speed.

Each map varied in size, location, and style. Anywhere from 4-32 players (or bots) could be on the map, engaging in modes like death match, team death match, capture the flag, assault (objective-based matches), and onslaught (point-control style gameplay on large maps, and featuring vehicles).

There’s no story to speak of here; there’s some narrative to be found in the bios for each selectable character, and the single player “tournament mode” will take you through a guided set of matches, much like an “arcade mode” in games like Street Fighter or Tekken, but for the most part story is virtually non-existent (which as we would later find, is a good thing).

Similar to titles like Team Fortress 2 and League of Legends, Unreal Tournament offered players an online battlefield to test their skills against each other. This was by far the best way to experience UT2K4 (though, admittedly, I wasn’t much of an online player until Unreal Tournament 3). The speed and intensity of the online matches was addicting, and lead to many adrenaline-fueled afternoons in front of my computer screen.

Why I love it: One word: instagib. For those who don’t know, instagib is an “instant kill” mode, where each successful shot resulted in a satisfyingly violent explosion of gore, or “gib”, short for giblets.

This was just one of the many ways you could modify your experience. UT2K4 included a vast number of viable you could change in the settings, including low grav, faster characters, instagib, higher health, and many more.

I used to turn on low grav, high speed, and instagib, and try to rack up as many kills as possible, while facing the max number of bots on a tiny map.

On top of this, the Unreal Tournament series is well-known for its mod community. The unreal Editor allows for modders and map makers to create new content — be it new skins, character models, maps, or game modes — and easily export them so they could be uploaded and played by anyone. This opened the door for literally hundreds of custom maps and characters to be imported to your game, increasing the game’s replayability exponentially.This was great, and something I absolutely loved about the game.

When it comes to the actual gameplay however, my favorite thing about UT2K4 was the Onslaught mode. Here, large teams battled for control over specific points on the map called nodes. Each node linked to another, and you could only capture/attack nodes connected to one of yours. Once you had captured enough nodes, you would be able to attack the other team’s main base, and win the round.

These maps were much larger than the normal CTF or deathmatch maps, and also featured vehiles that could be piloted to move across the terrain quickly, or even brutally slaughter our opponents. This was by far my favorite mode online, as it combined the intensity of the deathmatch and CTF modes with the strategy and large maps of point-control. In my mind, few games have ever melded these two styles together as seamlessly as the Unreal Tournament series.

Nexuiz -- Hope for the future.

In recent years, the Arena Shooter genre has basically died out. Since the rise in console FPS games, the PC has been left by the wayside. Games like Counter Strike and Team Fortress still carry the banner, but they offer different experiences than Arena Shooters of the past. Even Epic Games, the development studio responsible for Unreal Tournament, have moved onto the consoles with the highly successful Gears of War series (following their good-not-great sequel to UT2K4, Unreal Tournament 3). There’s still hope for a return of Arena shooters with games like Tribes: Ascend and Nexuiz, but they are still in development and only time will tell if they will succeed.

While I still hold out hope that we’ll see a new title in the series after the launch of Unreal Engine 3 (each Unreal Engine has come with a new Unreal Tournament, so there’s a chance) in all honesty, I’m more than happy with the memories I have of UT2K4. Hell, there’s still a small community playing the game. So if you ever get the hankering to blow some dudes up, and just have fun, get yourself a copy of Unreal Tournament 2004, you’ll be happy you did.

Is PC gaming dead?

–By Brendan

We’ve heard time and time again over the past five or six years “PC gaming is dead.” Sure, any gamer can tell the industry is heading towards new horizons; new ideas and innovations like motion controls, super-powered handhelds, digital distribution, and free-to-play games seem to be ushering in a new era of gaming.

Where does the PC stand in all of this? Once thought to be the unmatched king of graphics, speed and multiplayer, the PC is seeing perhaps the biggest changes to its formula in order to meet the industry’s demands. But is the platform truly dead? Continue reading “Is PC gaming dead?”