Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Why Joss Whedon should cancel The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Like many fans of the Marvel Movie hits, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Avengers, I was excited to learn that a show featuring S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Coulson was being developed.  I thought it was a good idea from a studio production standpoint.  The movies are being released 2 at a time each year.  If they were tied together with a TV show the audience would be kept in the light regarding the goings on in the Marvel Universe.  The core audience of this show will be people who loved the movies.  Given the big hits the movies were, this should be a great hit.

However, the execution of the show is downright awful.  In fact, I would say it addresses the audience like they are imbeciles.

The show constantly refers to The Battle of New York from The Avengers as if that was the only topic.  While I didn't mind the first mention of it, after all the show must set a timeline, the 4th or 5th mention got to be a little much. 

Then a little Red Alert went off in my head  when the character Maria Hill played by Cobbie Smulders makes a comparison about Grant Ward played by Brett Dalton in the following manner:

"espionage, highest marks since Agent Romenoff"

I felt like what she actually said was, "espionage, highest marks since Agent Romenoff, played by Scarlett Johansson in the hit movie The Avengers, available now on Blu-Ray and Netflix."

It didn't stop there.  More lights went off

Agent Coulson insists on staying below RADAR, they should not be seen or noticed.  An irony given the S.H.I.E.L.D. Eagle Insignia is emblazoned on nearly everything in every scene.  Driving down the street with the Insignia on the SUVs, surely won't be noticed.  Neither will that C-17 with the logo painted in multiple locations designated "the Bus", because a spy won't crack that code word.  The Bus transports the agents around the world for their missions.

In the second episode, the problems only get worse.  The show winks at the audience to get the joke so much, it makes one wonder if they are having a seizure or something worse.

A device is found in a Mayan temple.  The Agents arrive and discover the object emits Gamma Radiation, "much like that found in the Tesseract, you know the chief maguffin in the movie Captain America which was reclaimed by Thor at the end of The Avengers /wink /wink."

Agent Coulson runs into an old flame Camilla Reyes.  They begin talking about all the missions they took together.  "Remember those 30 people you killed."  "Yea, what about that time you escaped from that prison with nothing but half a shoelace."  The audience is spoon fed their hokey history.  Once again it was like the actors could have just looked at the camera and said "We are filling in backstory about how tough and dangerous we are." /wink /wink

Predictable?  Yup, Agent Coulson and his girlfriend are on board the plane  This time they picked up Coulson's girlfriend and her 8 or so guards, who surreptitiously ask if they can go up and get a bite to eat.  This is about 20 minutes into the show.  As a viewer I simply looked at the time remaining in the show and just waited for the surprise hijacking to commence.  When the hijacking happens its just bad.  The presentation is just bad.

Thinking the audience hasn't been insulted enough the show runners decide to use this crisis to build up the character of Melinda May by saying she used to be called the Calvalry.  Then everyone acts shocked and says "You mean that Calvalry."  No reference for the audience to wink at here, unless you were falling asleep during this boring predictable plot.

Naturally the good guys retake the plane.  A friend of mine said it was like a bad episode of Charlie's Angels.  If you need more specifics then watch ANY EPISODE of Charlie's Angels.

I do get it.  A show needs to build up the characters.  There are smart ways to do that and they are not being utilized.  If someone is smart have them demonstrate it.  In the pilot Episode of Bones, we are told Dr Brennan is smart and then we watch as Dr Brennan painstakingly assembles a completely shattered skull.  The scene is great because her character is shown in some decent shots working alone.  This demonstrates to the audience that she has the knowledge to do her job.

Compare that to The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. where Agent Coulson says "We still need to iron out the kinks, but Ward you can speak 6 languages, Simmons you have 2 PHD's in fields I cannot pronounce, and Fitz you ARE a rocket scientist, so work it out."

This is something many network TV Shows try to do.  It is not isolated to this one.  TV Shows trying to cram multiple areas of expertise into a single individual.  If that isn't enough when a skill is needed for the hero that normally isn't brought up, its given as a "Oh yea, I was a summer intern at my Uncle's garage, your transmission is fixed"

Finally, I come to the title of my post.  Joss Whedon, the Executive Producer of this show, gave an interview to EW.  In the interview, Joss Whedon stated he thought the start of the downfall of Hollywood came in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

In the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones is cornered by two swordsmen.  Indy gives that smirk and reaches for his gun.  This is a callback for the audience to Raiders of the Lost Ark.  However since this movie takes place before Raiders of the Lost Ark, there shouldn't be a callback.  Joss doesn't want to rely on any callbacks to the Avengers for it sequel.  If that is truly how he feels about entertainment, then please quit insulting the audience and pull the plug on this show. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Brief Stint in Sanctuary

I know I have had a long hiatus, but I have something new to write about.

I just finished the Diablo 3 Open Beta.  I originally planned to play the classes I knew I was going to like.  After I finished the Barbarian run, I decided to try and finish the Beta with each Class if I had the time.  Thankfully I was able to accomplish this feat.  Here's my writeup of each of the classes from my point of view.  Each class played exactly as I expected. 

The Classes:
1.  Barbarian:  I spent the most time on this class.  I explored every part of the Beta, even going back to fill in the Fog of War after I found the way to progress.  I had the most fun playing this class.  He's very simple.  If there's an enemy, run up and kill it.  Good weapons=good times.

2.  Witch Doctor:  I originally intended to ignore this class.  I never liked the Necromancer in Diablo2.  I couldn't exactly master the indirect and abstract play style.  The mongrels you summon sometimes go down hallways you don't mean for them to go to.  The pets of the WitchDoctor are great until you get to a Boss.  The Skeleton King just AOE'd the Mongrels down each of the 3 times I summoned them.  Thankfully I had Poison Darts and Firebats to finish the fight.  The same thing happened to my Necro in D2.  Skels and Golems did great until I got to a real boss, then they got popped nearly instantly.  I would definitely recommend this class play with others.

3.  Monk:  This is the second class I was going to ignore.  It is another melee fighter.  His attacks seemed very powerful when fighting all the NPC's.  The sound effects were really good.  I didn't get a chance to see a powerful AOE ability.  He had a directed cone attack in his Roundhouse kick.  He had an ability called Tempest Charge which was cool, but did little damage.  The best use I found for Tempest Charge was during a MiniBoss fight, activate Tempest Charge and run circles around the MiniBoss.  Unfortunately, this did not work so well against the Skeleton King.  His punches and kicks weren't exactly powerful.  I had to take a few health potions and run away a lot.  It took so long to kill the Skeleton King, I got the Instant Karma achievement.  The Skeleton King summoned Skeletons, then did his AOE attack and killed them.  This class might need others to play with.

4.  Wizard:  Boom.  This class does tremendous single target and AOE damage.  I didn't use Shock Pulse that much.  I tried it and unless something was standing in front of you, don't expect to hit anything right away.  Shock Pulse is D1 and D2's charged bolt.  Random electricity shooting around maybe hitting something you need.  This class played like you think it does.  Can kill a lot of stuff, can't take hits too much.  Run from boss, blast it, repeat.

5.  Demon Hunter: Line of sight, what's that?  Seriously, this class was the easiest to play.  I used the default Hungering Arrow through the entire Beta.  This thing will actually seek out nearby NPC's to hit.  So you can shoot it down hallways and around corners.  With the Rune to increase it's piercing chance to 30% I could clear out small groups pretty easily.  I didn't find the Caltrops trap to be useful until I got Vault.  The Skeleton King was most easily killed by the Demon Hunter.  I placed the crown on his head and while the animation played I backed up and laid down some Caltrops.  While the Skeleton King slowly walked towards me, I held down the Right Mouse button and let RapidFire do it's magic.  I knocked down a little over a third of the Skeleton Kings health.  I used Hungering Arrow to allow Hatred to build up then repeated the Caltrops+Rapid Fire combo.  This class was super easy and powerful to play.  I did the beta in the shortest amount of time with this one.  1 hour 41 minutes. 

Other Features:
The only regret I had was I wish I played an Open Game.  You can create an Open Public game and anyone can join you.  It seems there were over 250k such games Sunday night. 

The Auction House wasn't enabled, so I didn't get a chance to look at that.

The shared stash and gold pools was nice.  If this feature didn't exist, I don't think the next feature could be utilized fully.

The Artisan.  It takes quite a lot of gold to level this guy up.  But once he is leveled up, it is done for all the characters.  So alternate characters will get a good head start on their run through.  The Artisan makes good gear, equal to Blue Drops.  I didn't see him make any named items.

Final Thoughts:
I like many of the changes this game has made.  I didn't like picking Stat choices or Skills in D2.  Probably because I wasn't very good at it.  If I didn't put enough points into Vitality early, in later levels I couldn't progress as easily.  Having D3 assign stat points is no different than WoW assigning them.  In Beta, WoW required users to assign stat points too.  Thankfully they changed that system to one that does it automatically. 

Linking Skills to weapon damage is a bit iffy.  While this allows for scaling, I can clearly see the Real Money Auction House overshadowing this change.

While I find the "Online Only" feature of Diablo3 to be a bit off-puting, I can see the advantages of it.  If none of my friends are on, I can take a Witch Doctor or Monk into an open game and make some progress.

The graphics are great and so is the sound. 

The only question remaining is, is this game worth $60?  Should I buy a game based on the name and the company?

The only friends that I know that might play it, have paid for the WoW Annual Pass and are thus getting the game for "free".  My wife and I cancelled our WoW accounts to get ready for another baby so I have to think about that $60.  I had a favorible time in the Beta, but is it $60 favorable?

Things to Ponder.

PS: I do have to point out that any "Sales" numbers for Diablo3 will be skewed since it is bundled with a purchase of the WoW Annual Pass.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Wife = Awesome


I know it's been a while, but I finally have something to say. My wife is awesome.

She's been writing a lot lately. What she has been writing is a good quality novel. It's a mystery novel. Not really my type of book, but it is good enough for a sci-fi/fantasy fan to like it. While reading it, I kept asking Wendy questions about certain things about the story structure. Her reply was that Mystery Novels work this way. She would know. Nearly all the mystery novels covering our bookshelves are hers.

Here is her finished work:

While thinking about all the work she has done for this book. I can't help but think of all the work she done for us.

She has a daytime job. She was promoted to supervisor because of her hard work. She leads a team now and brings in a good income for us. It's stressful for her, but she works hard at it anyway.

She raises our son. After she powers-out a ton of her work she has time to spend with our son. He's only 2, but she teaches him what he can learn at this stage. She takes him to "Paw's" pool. We've been teaching him how to swim around with water-wings and jump in the pool.

She keeps writing. She's working on a second book while discovering the ins and outs of promoting her first book. She keeps a blog about the whole process.

She spent 2 hours making dinner for mostly me monday night. We've been eating leftovers all week. They are yummy leftovers.

Today she went to the grocery store while I was at work. Normally we go as a family on Friday evening. But, the last few Friday's I've been mowing so I can get some swim time with my family on the weekend.

The Lord has truly blessed me with a Proverbs 31 woman. She only spins a different type of yarn.

Here is the passage from the New Living Translation of Proverbs 31

"10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is worth more than precious rubies. 11 Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. 12 She will not hinder him but help him all her life. 13 She finds wool and flax and busily spins it. 14 She is like a merchant's ship; she brings her food from afar. 15 She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day's work for her servant girls. 16 She goes out to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. 18 She watches for bargains; her lights burn late into the night. 19 Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber. 20 She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. 21 She has no fear of winter for her household because all of them have warm clothes. 22 She quilts her own bedspreads. She dresses like royalty in gowns of finest cloth. 23 Her husband is well known, for he sits in the council meeting with the other civic leaders. 24 She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs with no fear of the future. 26 When she speaks, her words are wise, and kindness is the rule when she gives instructions. 27 She carefully watches all that goes on in her household and does not have to bear the consequences of laziness. 28 Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: 29 "There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!" 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised. 31 Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise. "

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Apple has the Momentum

During the announcement of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs called this the PostPC era. He criticized other tablet makers for thinking this was a new PC market.

From Steve Jobs himself, "A lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and seeing this as the next PC. Our experience and every bone in our body says that this is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC. That need to be even more intuitive than a PC. And where the software, hardware, and applications need to intertwine in a more seamless way than the PC."

With the successful dominance of the iPad and after living in Microsoft's shadow in the PC arena, Steve Jobs and Apple will not repeat this for another 20 years.

They have defined the new era. Apple has the Momentum. This means that the market is theirs to lose.

Monday, November 1, 2010

When will Movie Theatres die?

My wife and I had our 5th anniversary this last Friday. We went and saw the movie RED. We both enjoyed it and had a genuinely good time. We like going to the movies. However, we have a son now.

In order to go to the movie we had to get my dad to watch him. We had to arrange a time to drop him off and pick him up. This isn’t necessarily difficult, but we had to time everything against the Theater's listed Show Time.

This last weekend Christopher Nolan stated he wasn’t going to shoot the next Batman Movie in 3D. The next Harry Potter movie won’t be employing it as well.

As I thought about this news I began to wonder. When will the Movie Theater actually die? Movie Theater's have been around a long time. They have gone through hard times and good times. There have been some great innovations in screen and sound technology. But, as is often said, the times have changed.

Right now, Big Screen TV’s are becoming increasingly cheaper and with better options. Many of them have built in applications that connect you to Netflix, Youtube, Vudu, HuluPlus and other sites with streaming movies.

What I want to know is, which big name studio will be the first to completely abandon the Theater? I know smaller companies already have. But they primarily shoot made for TV movies or pornography. I’m talking about large quality movies for the mainstream.

There are many advantages for the Production Companies to do so. They don’t have to create Posters, or those goofy giant stands for the Theater. They don’t have to make multiple copies of the film and ship them to the theaters. There wouldn’t be any groups trying to hijack one of these film copies and uploading it to the internet and cutting into the profits. Only two copies of the movie ever need to be made, the physical and the digital.

There are advantages to the consumer. I don’t have to drive to the theater. I don’t have to worry about getting germs from the crowds. I don’t have to work out logistics with my family to watch my kids, so the wife and I can have a date. We can wait for them to go to bed and start and pause the movie as we need. We can bring our own snacks to the living room.

A Studio can negotiate with Netflix, Vudu or whichever site they choose, a new category for newly produced movies. Ask for $5 per stream or whichever price they think this service is worth.

This type of thing already goes on in the Software world. I regularly buy games on Steam and now Impulse. I purchase the software, download it and play it. If I need the hard drive space back I can delete the local copy, but the software is forever tied to my account. I can download it and play it again when I want to. Not having to make or keep physical copies around is convenient and starting to become more natural.

I know I am not original at all in my thoughts above. I have heard it for years, even back when movies were being put on VHS and were being rented.

So who will be the first Studio to drive the nail in the Movie Theater's coffin? And more importantly, when will the hammer fall?

There is nothing like ending on a heavy metaphor.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bargain Hunter Review #3: Red Faction: Guerrilla

I apologize for the lateness of this post. I've had it typed up for a while, but StarCraft2 interrupted my posting. Now let's get to the review.

When I was thinking about how I was going to describe this game, there was one word which continually entered my mind: ambition.

Red Faction: Guerrilla, RF:G from here, is an ambitious game. This game is made by Volition, a company with a solid history. How or why they decided to transition from SpaceSim to shooters is beyond my imagination. I actually avoided the Red Faction series because I loved their previous Freespace games and wanted more of those. They never came, but the Red Faction series stands tall on its own feet. This is due to the GeoMode gaming engine, which powers the Red Faction games. This engine allows the developers to create any structure, or terrain in previous games, and make it destructible. Every man made object you find on the surface of Mars can be blown apart. This level of destruction is the key component of the gameplay in RF: G.

See, wasn't that pretty.

The Story
You play the character of Alec Mason. He has come to Mars to work as a miner with his brother. His brother turns out to be a member of a "terrorist" organization known as the Red Faction. I put terrorist in quotes, because Mars is controlled by the Earth Defense Force or EDF. The EDF is a totalitarian regime. People are rounded up and shot without trial. If the EDF even suspects you are a Red Faction member, you are guilty. It turns out Mason's brother is in the Red Faction and is gunned down by EDF guards who soon turn their sites on you. You've been on Mars less than a few hours and already you are guilty of being a "terrorist". Thankfully, some Red Faction members show up and assault the guards holding Alec Mason. While a guard has his back turned, Alec Mason reaches for his Sledgehammer and delivers his first blow for the Red Faction.

This story has a base attraction to just about every worker that simply wants to do his job and go home. It's a tale of the working class rising up against those who abuse them.

Mars looks great. The canyons and mountains have distinctive red tones. The sun is tiny like it should be. I would think the Development team did some research on how rock strata looks. Most of this game takes place in canyons. The Mars Colony is an active environment.
There are people driving on roads or just standing around civilian structures. Because of all this "activity", RF:G suffers from the Barren Wasteland syndrome you often see in shooters. Remember all I said about the wonderful GeoMod engine allowing you to blow things up. In order to make a game with so much data run smoothly a compromise has to be made. You couldn't feature the details of destruction like this and set the game in a jungle. Now some people might say, "Why not? Crysis did it." But Crysis needs nearly $500+ of video card power alone to play it with a decent framerate. RF:G makes a compromise with the typical barren rock wasteland to reach a wider audience.

The argument could be made that Mars is already a wasteland. While that may currently be the case, by the time this game starts Mars has been going through the process of terraforming. If more foliage was desired, writers could simply write that the terraforming has come a long way. Boom! Now there could be Forests.

This is not a criticism of the game. The visuals are great and appropriate.

I am a bit iffy on the in-game cutscenes. I think they are well done, but something seems slightly out of place. It doesn't seem quite as good as the HalfLife2 facial animations. Perhaps they exist just below that quality level, or somewhere too close to the Uncanny Valley. They don't detract from the gaming experience, so don't worry too much about it.

For gameplay sounds, nothing seems to stand out. There isn't anything that pops or sounds memorable. The sound effects for guns, cars, trucks, haulers, exploding buildings all sound like they should. Perhaps this was the goal. But sometimes, it's good to go a little over the top to give a game some oompf!

The Soundtrack is great. The soundtrack does not detract you from your actions. It swells up for emotional effect when it needs to. It dies down and disappears in the background when necessary. The Soundtrack doesn't tire the listener out. The Soundtrack is everything it should be. Normally in games I turn the soundtrack off. I get tired of the repetition. I didn't have to in RF:G.

NPC's/Artificial Intelligence
I'll have to split this up into the different types of NPC's you see.

The Earth Defense Force:
EDF Soldiers will run for cover in this game. They also will charge right up to you. It's a mixed bag, depending on your location. One of the weaker points of the AI involves any Armored Vehicle with a turret. If you kill the gunner the driver will step out of the protection of the AV to attempt to man the turret. A swift sledgehammer attack, or a few rounds from the Assault rifle can rub him out the EDF gene pool.

The EDF has superior numbers and firepower. After you finish the Parker Sector, the EDF has a near limitless amount of soldiers to throw at you.

The Red Faction:
Some missions will have members of the Red Faction fighting by your side. Also, as you raise morale, sometimes passing Colonists will join with the Red Faction and assist during one of your attacks. They are very competent about taking care of themselves. Sometimes a few of them will die, but as far as taking on EDF solders, they are really good.

Occasionally, they will do some of the most frustrating things that any AI can do. Imagine assualting an EDF Guard Tower and some miner's join you. You decide to leave and get in a vehicle when some clueless NPC's stand in front or behind you. You don't want to run them over. This obviously lowers morale. There isn't a horn on the vehicles either. I was frustrated by this the first 3 or 4 times it happened. Eventually, I gave up and just started running them over. If that happens to you, that's my recommended course of action.

The Colonists:
Colonists are a mixed bag. Most of the time they'll simply swear at you, as you drive by. Many times they panic when the shooting starts. Some of the time they'll join you. So you don't want to scare them too badly, or get them hurt. They are a potential pool of cannon fodder. A really frustrating scenario, which you'll run into, is when driving along the roads of mars and a civilian decides to turn right in front of you and you have an accident. If EDF troops happen to be patrolling nearby, your alert level goes up and bullets, rockets and whatever else they have is flying your direction. Even though it was clearly the colonists fault.

Don't run over or kill too many Colonists. It lowers the Morale.

Your Character
The only character development comes from which upgrades or weapons you select to buy. You are limited to 4 weapon slots. One of which will always be a Sledgehammer. So in reality, you have 3 slots to fill up with weapons. Some weapons that I didn't think were useful, became very useful when I started to use them. So try them all out for a few missions. Also, if you don't like your loadout, when you kill a soldier you can swap out with whatever they are carrying. You can make new weapons available by taking them from soldiers and visiting the weapons cabinets at the safehouses.

It's a shame you are limited to so few weapons. Many of the weapons are just plain fun, but since you are limited you try go with a more Utility route in your loadouts.

Don't think that having one of your slots permanently reserved for the Sledgehammer is a bad thing. The Sledgehammer is incredibly useful. It's probably the most useful item in the game. It can one-hit kill any NPC. You can use it to tear down buildings. If an EDF soldier jumps behind cover, then use the Sledgehammer on the Wall or barrier. You'll bust through the cover and kill the soldier with ease.

I would highly recommend getting the armor upgrades. Those will keep you alive.

There isn't much in character development. It all comes from the story you are playing.

Destruction is the name of the game. The game tries to make you addicted to it. Like that's a problem. To earn upgrades or weapons you have to gather Salvage. You gather salvage through... you guessed it: Destruction. The more man-made objects that are destroyed, the more Salvage you get. You can also earn salvage from the mining nodes that are sprinkled on the landscape. But those are scattered pretty far about.

What is this game like to play? If you could imagine
a game that was the cross between Grand Theft Auto and Borderlands, then this is it. I know of some popular people on the internet that think that Borderlands was the best game of 2009. I tried Borderlands. I didn't think it was nearly as good as RF:G. Perhaps Borderlands is best played in co-op mode. I'm guessing co-op gave Borderlands the edge in their minds. Borderlands takes place on a desolate planet with a static environment. Most of the humans you saw there, you were trying to kill. This isn't the case in RF:G. In RF:G the humans bring the world alive.

There is a basic structure to success in the Single Player Experience in RF:G. Mars is divided into sectors. At the start you can only work in the Parker sector. If you ever played an MMO, I would consider the Parker sector like that first zone every character starts in. It's just there to get you started on your journey. Once you hit the Dust Sector it's like hitting a wall of EDF. This forces you to adjust your tactics. You have to adopt a Guerrilla style of gameplay. Your over all goal is to Free Mars from the EDF. But you have to liberate each sector first. To liberate a sector you have to do three things.

1. Lower the EDF Control level to Zero.
2. Raise the Red Faction Morale to 100. This isn't entirely necessary, but it helps in a huge way.
3. Complete the Red Faction specific missions in that sector. There are usually 3 or 4 per sector. The last one usually flags the sector as liberated.

Raising Morale has two effects. Red Faction weapons lockers will start spawning on the map. The higher the Morale the more lockers will be made available to you. These will allow you to replenish your ammunition and switch loadouts in the field. The second effect of a high morale, is that civilians will more likely join you in a fight against the EDF.

Once you move out of the Parker Sector to the Dust sector, you can drive about in an open world style to all sectors except Eos. It's the last sector and therefore special to the storyline.

Needed Improvements
1. There are several times in the game where are you without a vehicle and need to get somewhere. You go out to the road to "acquire" transportation, but for some reason there's no traffic. The means running by foot to find a vehicle. Later in the game, there's an upgrade you can buy that transports you to a Safehouse. This should have been enabled by default.

2. The little details stood out too much. By that I mean, buildings seemed empty. There were the typical crates in buildings, but they were mostly surfaces. The more fancy buildings had empty counters, computer and a radio playing on a mantle someplace. There are no plates, no coffee cups, picture frames or anything that makes the buildings personal. This make the game feel sterile. I'm sure these items aren't in the game since most of the buildings you enter, you are there to demolish. Also, where was the food. What do the people on Mars live off of. I didn't see any gardens, just a few plants and some grasses in the Oases and Eos Sectors.

3. There are a few opportunities in the game where you get to drive a giant Walker. These things do a lot of damage and just walk through structures. This is arguably the most fun part of the game.

Here's a video from THQ staring Richard Machowicz

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be that many Walkers around. There are 2 or 3 you get for missions and that's about it. Nothing I can climb into and just use. Since the Red Faction are a group of miners and they use these as tools all the time, I would expect to have more available.

I noticed that in the next iteration of Red Faction they have evolved the Walkers into Combat Mech Suits. They look great. So hopefully that will satisfy the requirements of this improvement sections.

4. As with all games dependent on Physics as part of the gameplay, there are a couple of places where something seems to go wrong. I'll name a couple.

A: I was driving along the road and I tried to make a sharp right turn. My vehicle decided it could fly. I tried hitting "Use" to get out, hoping I could fall to the ground. Thankfully after 10 seconds or so, the vehicle respawned with me on the ground.

B: On one mission I had to ram a lot of towers with my vehicle. My vehicle sustained so much damage I had to get out. I got ran over by an EDF AV. Then again, and again and again and again. Thanks to the physics engine, my character was ragdolling on the ground underneath these vehicles unable to get up at all forcing me to reload.

C: Sometimes when you destroy nearly 90-99% of a buildings supports, some wayward beam that must be made of Carbon Nanotubes is holding the entire structure up.

I don't know if this is an issue with testing, or the way computers try to handle physics. Physics in games has been around a while, but we are still in the infancy of of how to program it correctly. I'm sure future physics engines will correct for some of the things I mentioned.

5. RF:G suffers from Consolitis. Consolitis is when a game designed for a Console like the XBox or PS3 are ported to the PC. It also may refer to a PC Game that gets dumbed down to play on a Console and thus "ruining" the PC Enthusiast experience. These Controls are meant for a console controller. There is a bit to much play in the steering of fast vehicles for a keyboard. I think this also limited the number of weapons you can carry. I wish I could carry a lot of the weapons around. Being limited to 3 wasn't particularly fun. I eventually came across a loadout that worked for whatever situation I was in though. So maybe I didn't need all those weapons. Still, a lot of work went into making those in the game, only to have them not be used due to slot limitations. I wish there were more freedom in what I could carry.

6. Impromptu missions from the radio. I'm not sure this is a needed improvement. I like the feature, I think it needed more fine tuning. Let me explain. Every now and then random missions will come over the radio. You can choose to ignore these if you wish. But accomplishing them raises morale. These missions have you doing all sorts of tasks. That is unless you are in the Dust Sector.

In the Dust Sector, I got a "random" mission 3 times in a row. When you enter Dust, near one of the Safehouses there is a garage and barracks that the Red Faction live at. When you drive by you get a cry for help over the radio. "The EDF have found us, please come help defend us." I accepted this mission and drive up. Next thing I know 3 EDF Armored Vehicles and a tank pull up. Unless you take out that tank quickly all the buildings will be destroyed. During these missions there's a meter in the upper right showing you the number of EDF and RedFaction soldiers left. You have to get the EDF Number to 0, while of course keeping as many RF members as possible. When you start this mission, the EDF number starts at 15. I got it down to 9 and destroyed the tank and the 3 AV's. Then, the number popped back up to 15. Here came two more AV's. I destroyed them and got the number down to around 7. Here come more AV's. This went on for 10 minutes. I finally finished the mission. I go get in a vehicle and start to head towards the SafeHouse. I immediately get another call on the radio, "Looks like the EDF wasn't happy about not finishing us off. Please come to the barracks." I accept the mission thinking, "Back to back missions, that's clever." So I have to suffer through the same fight, but with much lower ammo than before. I win the 2nd round, go hop into a vehicle and start off for the Safehouse when once again over the radio comes a call for help to defend the Garage and Barracks. Naturally, I declined and went to the Safehouse to get a good rest. Every time I drove past that location on the map, I got a call to help defend there. This was really annoying.

One type of random mission is to stop a convoy or chase down a defector. Remember what I said about consolitis. Trying to chase down a vehicle with a keyboard was difficult. Sometimes I would fail the mission and would get yelled at over the radio by the Red Faction Leader for my failure. This made me resentful to the RF General. I didn't see him out here tracking these people down.

"Would I recommend you spend money on it?"

I spent $5 on this game during the Steam Sale. According to Steam, I spent 42 hours playing the game. Now, I'm a completionist, so I like to finish as many of the side missions as possible. I also had to restart some of the Red Faction missions a few times. I did not finish all the missions. I eventually got frustrated and decided, "You know what, I'm just going to destroy stuff." That made me happier in the end. So, if you just stick to destroying EDF Property and doing the Red Faction Missions there is about 30-35 hours of gameplay.

This is a great SinglePlayer Game.
I was unable to play any MultiPlayer. It seems no one is playing the Multiplayer portion of this game. Which is a shame. Maybe people are too busy playing Call of Duty or Team Fortress 2 for their Multiplayer fix. Which is a shame, I think this would have been really fun to experience.

In conclusion: I had a lot of fun destroying everything I could see. I would recommend you buy this game. This is easily worth $5 and I would even go as high as $9.99.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bargain Hunter Review #2: Trine

What do Chuck Norris, bacon and the Bugatti Veyron have in common? They are awesome and in this review. The intrawebs may implode. You have been warned.

Trine is a Gem of a game. Like every great gemstone Trine has some flaws.

This game is not for everyone. Trine is for a specific person or personality. What it does do for its target audience, it does extraordinarily well. Everyone else will just miss the point. I’ve been trying to figure out what that target audience might be and I came up with the following questions.

Did you watch Pushing Daisies?
Did you love Pushing Daisies?

Did you understand
that Pushing Daisies was a macabre fairy tale popup book brought to life on the television?
Would you mind playing a side scrolling jumpy puzzle game with great production?

If you answered yes to at least 2 of those questions then there is a high probability you will enjoy Trine. This game isn’t for the power-gamer or someone simply wishing to finish the game. Imagine 2 people walking through a flower garden to get to a destination on the other side. One of them walks straight through and reaches the destination in mere minutes. The other one takes half an hour because he or she is admiring the work that was put into the garden. Trine is purely designed for the 2nd person. This game is to be admired while it is being played.

The Story
The good king of the kingdom dies. During his life there was peace. Since he had no heir, the kingdom fell into disarray a
nd the undead began walking the land. It is a generic fantasy backdrop, but the narrator presents the reasons for each of these events as you start or complete each level.

There are 3 actors who play a part in the “tale” of Trine. I can't call them characters, that label just doesn't seem to fit. For the rest of the review, I'll use the term Actor. The game starts with each Actor headed to the Astral Academy for different reasons. This place is where ancient artifacts were kept. The Thief is greedy and looking for treasure among the artifacts. The Wizard is looking for a fireball spell to impress the ladies. The Knight is trying to protect the Academy from looters and ne'er-do-wells. All three wind up at a shrine at the same time and lay their hands on an artifact that binds all their souls together.

It turns out that this artifact is called the Trine. Even though all their souls are trapped, they can project one physical form into the world at a time. Thus, while you possess all three actors at the same time, but you can only control one at a time. The only way this changes is if you happen to be lucky enough to play in coop mode.

Trine is gorgeous to look at. The use of layers is simply incredible. There are not many games that make you pause to admire the environment, but Trine is one of them. One of the many things the game excels at is to seamlessly fuse the background layers with the layer you are playing on. You will be running through forests watching trees pass in the different background layers. You will come across a river you have to cross. The act of pausing to jump or solve whatever puzzle may be present, causes your eyes to follow the river to its far distant source in the background. These moments happen often in Trine. Your characters have full 3D animations and watching them move, jump and fight is a pleasure. My words alone cannot detail it, so I’m going to link to a video supplied by the makers of Trine.

With all the visual attention Frozenbyte Games put into Trine, I was surprised to notice a couple of missing animations. I don’t know why they were omitted. I’ll go into more detail later.

The visual quality in Trine is married perfectly with the sound quality.The Voice Acting is great. That is the second highest complement to voice acting I can give. The highest would be excellent where game company Bioware exists. There is one Narrator and 3 actors presented to the player, the Thief, the Wizard and the Knight.

The Narrator starts the story and tells you the motivations of the 3 actors. The 3 actors give a brief exchange with one or maybe 2 lines at the start of each level. These exchanges between the actors do a great job of communicating their tolerance of each other to get through their predicament. Sometimes, I wish there was more voice acting to invest the players into the actors. However, you would begin to run into the problem of too much talking going on. I know that sometime in development, Frozenbyte Games must have had this very discussion. The final design philosophy “Less is more” was applied. This was the right decision. The game would have suffered to hear the actors yap all the way through each level.

Ambient sounds are superb. Whether you are passing by a river or walking through the woods, all sounds are accentuated. Caverns and sewers have appropriate environmental effects.

The Soundtrack is also great. However, her
e is one of the minor rough areas of the game. The Soundtrack is all original. There are 19 tracks plus the Main theme. However, the themes for each level are kind of short and can be repetitive. Maybe I'm just taking to long to get through the levels. It seems that each level plays its own theme, plus the Main. If you keep the music on, which I would still recommend, you may want to turn it down about halfway through the game. It gets a little tiring to hear the Main theme so often.

Artificial Intelligence
There are three enemy types.

#1: Skeletons.
here isn't much to say. Skeletons don't have a lot of brains. Don't expect anything more than them charging at you. There are some with shields that can block your attacks. Those are a challenge. There are also other varieties of skeleton that I will leave you to discover.

The Skeletons do navigate the environment fairly well. They'll jump over obstacles and even climb vertical surfaces to get to you. However, sometimes they get killed by the traps that are set for you. Don't worry about them too much. Th
eir primary threat is numbers.

#2 Bats
For me the most frustrating enemy were bats. I couldn't see any predictable flight pattern and they were fast. You would hear them long before you saw them. I would furiously swing at them with my Knight or try shoot a flurry of arrows at them with the Thief. They don't do much damage, but it was a little annoying to always be hit by at least one of them. Bats made the perfect pests.

#3 Spiders
Thankfully spiders are only on a few levels. Otherwise this game might be miserable. Spiders attack you by spitting at you and physically attacking you. While dispatching them is easy, I ran into 3 or 4 that could spit at me through the floor I was standing on. This should have been caught as a bug (see what I did there).
Such jokes are clever late at night.

Your Character
You don't have a character. You control 3 actors. However, there is a lighthearted RPG element in this game. You can collect Experience by killing monsters or collecting Experience potions. There are also Secret chests strewn about which hold items to improve the actors. There are limited inventory slots for all 3 of the actors. When
the actors level up you can assign skill points to enhance any of the three abilities they have. You will rarely spend time on the level and inventory screen.

Gameplay/Class Balance
Gameplay in Trine is really clever. Each actor has un
ique abilities and some of the jump puzzles require you to figure out which one to activate at any time. Some obstacles require a combination of abilities between the actors. Let me explain.

The Knight can jump, but not as well as the others. This is your fighter character. When surrounded by Skeletons you want the Knight out to dispatch them. While you can use the Thief with her arrows, she takes more damage than the knight. The Knight is strong and can move boxes and stones around for another character to jump on. He also sinks quickly in water. While that sounds like a negative, there are some water tunnels you need to take and you don't want to waste your air meter getting to the bottom.

The Thief can jump like a cat. She can also use a grappling hook to swing across hazards or to ascend to a platform. With her arrows she can dispatch enemies or light torches. The great thing about her arrows is that you can hit an enemy behind cover with a high enough arc. The Thief is the actor you will have out most since she is better at physically navigating the game world than the other two.

The Wizard can jump moderately well. He has no direct combat abilities. He can conjure 3 types of objects. He starts with boxes and moves on to planks and then a floating pyramid. The best he can do in combat is to conjure a box or a plank and drop it on some skeletons head. As the Wizard levels up he can create more of each of these objects. The other two actors can use any of the Wizard's conjured items. There were several times I created a stack of boxes and used the Thief to jump from the top of them to get to a higher ledge. That is the simplest example of combining two of the actors abilities to accomplish one goal.

Trine offers many options for handling different obstacles. If you favor the Wizard and I favor the Knight, we can have two different experiences. These different possibilities make Trine replayable. Below is a video showcasing what I am trying to describe.

I have to point out that I also tried to build a ramp to avoid the spikey balls with my Wizard. However, the Wizard was so weak he couldn't keep the weight of the crate on the hill like the one in the video. So, I went sliding down the hill.

Whenever I encountered some skeletons that keep spawning near an obstacle, I felt this was a challenge to my patience. This wasn't in a negative way. I would switch to the Knight and combat skeletons until they stopped spawning. I just saw it as an opportunity to gain lost health, mana or even experience. If you find yourself in a situation like this, just be patient and keep fighting.

Sometime during gameplay one of the Actors will die. Sad, but true. When this happens you switch to one of the remaining Actors. In order to get a dead Actor back you need to make it to a checkpoint. You don't have to reach the next checkpoint, a previous one will do fine. You can also bring up the menu and select the option to return to the previous checkpoint. Checkpoints restore dead actors and their health and mana to at least 50%. If you can find it, there is an artifact that will raise it to 75% for the actor that currently has it equipped.

As far as difficulty goes, the game is very casual, friendly and simple for the first 13 levels. Level 14 is like taking a MENSA Exam. Seriously, I got the "Dead on Arrival" achievement without meaning to. This required me dieing 25 times in a level. Believe me, I was trying to avoid this as much as possible. Which leads me to the improvements section.

The difficulty in this game should have increased in a gradual manner to pull the players thought process into more abstract puzzle ideas. Instead when you reach Level 14 you get... well let me just show you what level 14 is like:

Part of the reason I had such difficulty is that I couldn't see beneath my actors at a crucial point. What would have improved the game would be better camera control. The game camera keeps the player in the center of the screen and that is it. Allowing the player to pan the camera with the cursor would have made a serious improvement. They don't need to allow me to pan it far. Maybe only as long as the actor remains on the screen.

The entire last level is a vertical race. This is the only level in the game that is like this. I don't mind vertical jumpy race levels. But the game could have been better if I encountered this playstyle as a portion of some previous levels.

I also had some difficulties finding some of the secret chests. Yes, I know they are secret, but through most of the game there is a little golden glow on the chest so you know where to try for one. Some of the chests didn't have this. I don't know if this was intentional, but there should have been some consistency.

As with all games dependent on Physics as part of the gameplay, there are a couple of places where something seems to go wrong. Since every game encounters these problems you can ignore this bit. I'm only listing it to be thorough.

I mentioned some missing animations above. With such a high quality game, something like this really sticks out. One of the Thief’s abilities is to use a grappling hook to swing across large distances. Sometimes you swing low and run into a vertical surface. If your hook is attached directly above, you will watch as your Thief, frozen in a swing animation, ascend the cliff, with her face. Her legs will be sticking out straight behind her. You will also notice that when you ascend or descend the rope, she makes no animation, just slides up and down. To make a visual improvement Frozenbyte should have added Rope Climbing, Rope Sliding and Wall-Walking animations. I don’t know why these weren't implemented. Perhaps they had animation or physics difficulties and they couldn’t figure it out before the game was released. Perhaps all the solutions they had didn’t work, so they went with nothing. I don't know the reason, but this causes a distraction in an already superb game.

Some people might say I’m being nitpicky, so here is an analogy.

Let’s say you happen to be so wealthy you buy a Bugatti Veyron. When you get in the car you notice the steering wheel is square. Now some of your neighbors might say, "Oh you can't ever be happy. It's a Veyron, look at the rest of it.." But, when something has such a high production value, the smallest flaws stand out more. It's sort of a curse of perfection.

Now I can finally tag Bugatti Veyron in my blog. This makes this review more awesome. Also, since adding bacon to anything makes it better, I’ll mention that for a tag too. Mmmm, bacon.

This is a casual game and is rated “E” for everyone, like bacon. One improvement to the game would have been enemy diversity. I don't know if different monsters can alter a rating. For example: Spiders are an "E", Human Soldiers are a minimum of "T", Pirates are "E" to "M" depending on dress and behavior. Zombies would have been nice to see. They would also fit in the lore of the Undead's appearance. Perhaps fleshy bits hanging off a corpse raise the rating to "T" and Frozenbyte didn't want that.

Another tiny issue was the Loading screen. The loading screen consists of a map on a static background with some dotted lines appearing on it while the Narrator explains the next part of the story. This is actually bland compared to the rest of the game. I don't think the loading screen needs to be improved that much. Here is what I believe the loading screen should have looked like. Instead of the static background a simple 3D scene of a desk would have gone a long way. Instead of just a map, there would be a book on the table with the map on the left page and the passage entry being narrated on the right.

Review Addendum: The biggest improvement to the game would have been 3 additional levels you can play after you finish the game. Each of these levels limits you to one of the Actors and plays to that Actors strengths. These could be challenge levels. I would have loved to have seen that.

There is consistent debate on the Interwebs about how games should be rated. Some use Stars, others percentages.
One uses Evil Eye's. I think I simply will ask the question, "Would I recommend you spend money on it?"

I would recommend to my friends that they buy Trine. It is worth spending money on.

I would say the optimum price point would be $9.99 with a sale.
I paid $4 for Trine on the Steam Summer Sale. This was an awesome bargain.

Here is a link to vendors selling Trine. Almost all of those have it for $19.99. However, I checked to see if any of them had it on Discount.
GamersGate has it for $6.78.
Here is a $9.55 copy on

No, I don't work for Frozenbyte.

In a final conclusion, the most awesome site in the universe would be, "Chuck Norris driving a Veyron while eating bacon."