Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Blog Name!

I realized the other day that my blog a stupid name, and decided to change it. It's all rather shallow when you retrace my train of thought backwards, but I think it's at least a little clever.

It has to do with my overall (ironic) disinterest in the games industry. I think it sums up the fact that I can't stand most games, and that I spend more time thinking and writing about how games can be better and more immersive than they are than I really do spend playing them. I'm a little ashamed that I have such short patience with games, but I suppose I could say that I just have a critical eye. Perhaps I just have a short attention span. Anyway, that's the story behind the new name.

Lately, I've been taking in a lot of game news, writings, and podcasts, as well as previews, trailers, and the like, but I've played very few single games faithfully. It's as if I enjoy feeding my hype for a particular game or piece of hardware, but when it comes to actually playing whatever it was, I'm either more content to move on to something else, or pass the game on to someone else and watch casually. It's really too bad, because there are so many games with great ideas and brilliant stories that I want to experience, but every time I try, I fail to stay focused on that game and move on to something else.

Maybe it's only that I'm surrounded by a lot of children lately and I haven't much time to play too much beyond the violence level of Star Wars. That's sort of my excuse for not playing Skyrim, but that game has failed to immerse me anyway.

Recentlly, I've been playing and watching (more of the latter, actually) a lot of Bastion, and I'm loving the game's narration and beautiful visuals. There's a lot of feeling put into this game, and that feeling comes across perfectly through the narration and writing. Actually, this is a game that impressed me both with writing and voice acting talent. With one trivial exception, every bit of character dialogue is heard through the voice of an omnipresent narrator. That's not all you'll hear out of this narrator, though. He constantly comments on actions taken by the player, as well as dropping small story cues throughout the adventure. In this way, the narration brings together gameplay and story in a truly novel way. The way the story is told makes one notice the little things that The Kid(your in-game playable character) does, rather than simply all of his great accomplishments that push the plot forward. The way the narrator comments on the weapons you choose, conversations made, and even events like falling off the edge of the level give a certain subtlety  and meaning to all your actions. This subtlety would be annoying and rather aimless without the witty writing behind the narrator, and his frequent use of metaphor and dry humour bring a lightness to everything the character does.

As much praise as I have for Bastion, I recognize that it's not a perfect game, but it draws me in in a way few games ever do. I enjoyed my time with the game so much that I will likely replay it soon, and probably write a review soon. Then again, I tend to say these things, and they don't happen...

Actually, on a more important note, I want to write an article for the Escapist, but I need to find an interesting topic that hasn't been done already. I was going to write about my disappointment in Skyrim, but that's already been covered, I've discovered. I need a unique approach to gaming that I can write about...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

TNT Racers: A Brief Review

This is my very short review of TNT Racers I wrote on Gamespot, seeing as it had a low user score and no written user reviews. I think it's a great, fun little game.

TNT Racers is a little-known arcade racer with fun, simple gameplay and a pleasant presentation. Although the content is accessible to gamers of all ages, the game hides some impressive challenge beneath the surface, mainly with its smart and difficult AI opponents.

You are greeted with a clear menu and nice, cheerful jazz music upon first entering the game, and you have the option of taking challenges or quick races against computer-controlled opponents or other players. There aren't any fancy bonus or mini-game modes, but this game isn't about presentational flairs or peripheral game modes, it's about fun, straightforward racing.

And what fun it is! The environments are colourful and diverse, complete with white and chilly-looking snowy tracks, lush green jungles, and bright and wide canyons. Powerups are plentiful and exciting, from the black oil slicks to the time-warp to the large hammer that causes the earth to shake. Controls feel tight, and plenty of varied terrain makes it enough of a challenge to stay on the track that you're always kept on your toes.

The first set of challenges should be none at all, but after you've cleared the first few, you start to realise that the game's AI is particularly skilled, usually exceeding your own skill level. It is refreshing to see a game offer some challenge, while still remaining accessible to younger audiences.

If the challenges prove too difficult, or you're simply looking for a change of pace, you could always try playing with a friend. The online play, as other reviews have stated, is quite dead, so counting on this aspect is unwise. However, the game does have a local multiplayer mode that works great. There are even some badges(accomplishments) and bonus cars to unlock by playing multiplayer races, and there is no lag or issues with Ad-Hoc play or Online play.

TNT Racers offers plenty of simple, unadulterated fun for all ages. It's a throwback to classic cart-racing games like so many others, but it's the one that rises above the others, hopefully ushering in a new generation of powerup-fueled racers.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Things I Hate About Skyrim

I woke up this morning feeling like writing something, and here I am. I suppose that's a good impulse, but I'm not really burdened with a good topic to write about. Although, I suppose that, if I want to keep blogging, simply writing is the key.

Since it's been quite some time since my last blog, I guess I should mention that I'm now living in Nova Scotia, and going to a new school. Amherst, Nova Scotia is a nice place - nicer than Hawkesbury in all respects, and the school is a notable improvement(in terms of drug use and profanity), but I do very much miss the company of my best friends from my old church in Hawkesbury, and no amount of improved quality of life(it wasn't that bad, really) can quite replace the relationships I had in Hawkesbury.

In gaming news, there is little to report. I am becoming increasingly bored with modern games, notably in the lack of meaning in most games. I've been playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim of late, and while I'm enjoying the game, there are many things that bother me about it.

The repetitive and mundane speech from many of the citizens of the towns is boring me. I love the level of detail in most things in the game, but the dialogue in the game is a weak point, in my opinion. While many critics praise the use of more voice actors(Oblivion is infamous for reusing the same few voice actors for almost every voice in the game), I feel that there is still much reuse of voice talent, and the accents from the different towns feel forced and fall flat. In particular, I find that all of the town guards sound like they are doing poor impersonations of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Another thing about the guards is their total lack of any character development. While most citizens in Skyrim are portrayed as real people with lives and backgrounds(something commendable for this game), the guards are totally modular in design. While there are different uniforms for guards from different towns and cities, there are no variations in the guards besides the distinction between male and female guards(who share the same awful accents). Lines of dialogue are reused between the genders and all guards throughout Skyrim, which has led to the famous creation of a famous new meme(language warning for the images section at the bottom of the page) that pokes fun at one of the guard's lines, "I used to be an adventurer like you, but then I took an arrow in the knee.".

I thought I would thoroughly enjoy staying in the game's towns, but the reused dialogue has broken the immersion enough that I usually prefer exploring the games immense environments. Even this, though, has its problems. Every time I try to make my way to a new quest objective or explore a new area, I'm attacked by sundry enemies. Now, I'm not against the occasional surprise attack by a thief or two or a pack of wolves, but when most human enemies encountered in the wilderness are malignant individuals trying to steal your money or food, I'm a little jarred by the contrast between the barbaric nature of the wilderness and the civilised, polite nature of most of the citizens of towns.

While Fallout 3 was plagued with similar bandits and mercenaries, at least the game has a good reason for this. Fallout 3 uses a post-apocalyptic setting, and the world of this game is supposed to be devoid of humanity; hence, the game's world is largely populated with people trying to kill or pillage to make a living.

Skyrim is presented as a beautiful world, and though there are many dangerous creatures, we get the sense that it is a much more civilized world than that of Fallout 3's. Fallout 3 has bandits and murderers who have reasons to kill and pillage, but Skyrim's world is so rich with wild-life and beauty that it feels disjointed to have the whole land populated by thieves and murderers. There are, of course, many thieves and murderers in our world, but they are all driven by certain motives, and generally, most only do so out of necessity. Skyrim seems a world so full of opportunity to the player, therefore, I question why there are so many evil people in the game who seem to have chosen a life of isolation and corruption rather than to be a member of a society or pursue quests for the countless citizens who need messages delivered, swords to be found, dragons to be killed, or governments overthrown.

Again, while many of the citizens of Skyrim are well-developed and feel real, most of the humans in the game really only serve fodder for your weapons to kill. While the game has been commended on the fact that targets of your assassinations feel very human, most of the bandits and witches in the game don't seem to have reasons to kill you; they just try to. In effect, most of these generic characters, like the guards, feel hollow and empty, they only serve a purpose for the gameplay, either as practice dummies for you to kill, or as enforcers of the law. Would not players be more hesitant to break the law or kill off entire towns if every guard had a personality and a little character development?

Anyway, all in all, I find the game does a better job than most games at character realism, and this is quite a feat, considering the scope of the game. I do enjoy playing the game, mostly for the expansive world and the fact the everything you see in the game is real. If you see a mountain, you can climb it. If you see a river, you can swim in it. If you see a distant abandoned castle on a far-off peak, you can be assured that that is a real location in the game and there most likely treasure to be found inside.

I've recently started a little game called "To the Moon" I've only just started the game, but I've heard that it tells an incredible tale about regret and relationships, and it really sets new standards for storytelling in games. It has a unique soundtrack and a story that actually means something. Don't be fooled by the graphics, it's no JRPG.

I think that's enough random ramblings for one blog post. My Independant Study Unit essay/presentation in English Class will cover the topic of  "Games as Art", so I will try to post that(the essay) on my blog when I finish it. I'm also reading the book "The Art of Videogames" by Grant Tavinor for this essay. It's interesting so far, though it's long and wordy(reminds me of myself!), and very philosophical.