Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Dark Souls 2: Soulless Fanfiction.

Dark Souls 2 is a reasonably successful experience on its own terms, but stumbles and sometimes outright fails for a variety of reasons when examined closely.

40-50 hours into Dark Souls 2 I came to the conclusion I just wasn't enjoying myself. What was different? Something had to be, after all, I eventually became used to Dark Souls and learned to greatly appreciate it for what it was. I still believe DkS achieves masterfully what it sets out to do and to those with the right mindset it is an engrossing experience.

If Dark Souls ever was "fun", that "fun" has been carefully syphoned from its sequel leaving greater frustration than ever before. It seems obvious to me that the changes in the dev staff have displaced the careful design present in DkS, because its sequel is full of issues. I'm simply not enjoying it as much. Don't play it solo, play it online and request help wherever possible, is my recommendation. And use a character that has good magic and / or a decent bow. Melee characters are just not fun this time.

Combat suffers due to less accurate controls (I'm using the same controller), finickier parrying, unpredictable back-stabbing (when I managed to, I was never once standing "at the back" of an enemy, only off the side a little), and worse of all: unreliable invincibility frame placement during rolls. Agility changes this, but it never becomes entirely "learnable". Weapon degradation is too rapid. The reason for joining covenants is never explained, and leaving them has no penalty any more.

The considered one-on-one battles of Dark Souls were tense and compelling, but much of DkS2 has the player face multiple enemies at once. In fact enemy placement is sometimes a total clusterfuck and tends towards unreasonable. The Black Gulch must surely be a level design nadir for From Software. Really, F*CK the Black Gulch: Hundreds of poison spitters and instant-death submerged trap hand mouth things that shields do NOT protect you from. The boss is ridiculous as well, and ALWAYS locks on to you. (Many bosses conform to a formula: oversized humanoid with oversized weapon, a few similar melee attacks, and a way to catch you when you're behind them.) Soldier's Rest is a mess: teleport to it, exit the building housing the bonfire, and then THREE old ironclads are on your tail within moments, plus a few undead soldiers. The run from Huntsman's Copse -> Bridge Overview to the Undead Purgatory is endlessly frustrating, punctuated by those "dark staff" monsters that kill in seconds. Many bosses, like the Pursuer, just take far, far too long to kill even with upgraded weapons. I'm struggling to think of occasions in DkS where the game felt as unfair, slow, or tedious. Maybe, maybe going through the Undead Burg the first hours, but that is rather due to player inexperience, not poor design.

Level design is haphazard, sometimes lazy and boring, other times inspired. But never coherent. I'd love to see the invisible elevator that takes one from Earthen Peak to Iron Keep... from the OUTSIDE. After killing the four boss souls (why?) ... some stones are removed from an arbitrary invisible wall to allow progress. The Tower Of Flame is essentially a series of linear corridors with a few battles and a single branching point. There's much more, but the game is littered with these issues.

Useful items are scarce for a great deal of the game. Titanite is given out so frugally, and cannot be bought from an "unlimited" source until very far into the game, meaning upgrades must be chosen with extra care. It's quite possible to be stuck with a character that is otherwise well built, but has rubbish weapons that cannot be upgraded due to a lack of souls and titanite. Oh and due to the monster spawn limit, farming isn't an option. I faced the Iron Keep with weapons that just weren't quite good enough and I'd spent all the souls and Titanite I could. An ARBITRARY limit on purchasable Titanite shards is then lifted after completing the Iron Keep.  WHY ??  WHY??? Another boneheaded decision!

Most NPCs have no reason to exist other than to provide items, complain to the player, and then sit in Majula and do bugger all for the rest of the game. Why must I talk to a specific NPC to level up? This is one of the few hold-overs from Demon's Souls that seems pointless. And why am I in Drangleic in the first place? This is never clearly explained, I'm just here to ... kill four bosses? Why? DkS1 made it clear the player is there to succeed Gwyn and ignite the first flame.

Not a successful sequel, Dark Souls 2 strikes me as ill-conceived fan-fiction. Those that remember Ultima 9 know how that plays out. This game is not recommended unless you can forgive all these issues.

I also recommend watching Matthewmatosis' video:

Edit: Operating very much at the extreme end of the critical scale Michael Thompson's particularly damning article thrashes the game. While I would argue some measure of suspending disbelief is always necessary when gaming, in this case, Dark Souls 2 is simply not worth it. But Thompson comes across as though gaming - for him - is a penance, so it's difficult to resonate with his thoughts.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Dark Mod: PC Gamer's Mod of the year. Stealth action at its finest, and it's FREE.

The Dark Mod

Of course it's the Mod of the year. TDM is an exceptional example of creative minds coming together to create a cohesive, immersive stealth action experience in a brilliantly-realised dark-ages-fantasy world. Superb. Highly recommended.

Note: Doom 3 is no longer required. As of TDM v2.0, it is a completely independent game that doesn't need anything else to play, just download and install.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Mastering Technique And Discussion With Matt Colton

An insightful and educational video that takes a hands-on (ears-on?) approach to discussing the art of mastering. Very much worth a watch.

Or watch it at Youtube.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Mainstream gaming and Ludonarrative Dissonance

Today I wish to draw attention to a collection of mails between Matthew Milewski and Clint Prentice of the gaming blog Error! Not Found. They discuss the so-called ludonarrative dissonance that occurs during the course of the new Tomb Raider game. Suffice to say, I played two hours of it and then uninstalled it in extreme disgust:


Friday, 29 March 2013

Ceephax Acid Crew

Andy Jenkinson is Ceephax Acid Crew, a one-man Acid techno machine. His music is brilliant. His earlier material is closer to "classic" acid music, but since 2009s "Ceeland" has become a lot more melodic. Ceephax music is a refreshing antidote to the incessant copious obsession with minimalism prevalent today. It is a melodic, occasionally psychedelic, melting pot of acid, techno, house, breaks and electro and it never fails to be engaging.

Here are some interviews with Andy:
Bleep 2010
The Digital Fix - January 2010
Gogbot - 2011 in Dutch
Smart Shanghai - May 2012

There are far too many great Ceephax tunes to post here, so here's a couple:

Mediterranean Acid


Thursday, 28 February 2013

Teleglitch: A masterful immersive action experience

I've recently had the pleasure of discovering a fantastic indie game entitled Teleglitch. So addicted have I become to it, that I have been playing it non-stop and contributing to the Teleglitch WikiHere is the introductory text I wrote, it provides a description of the gameplay without spoiling much. I recommend playing this game, it is the best recent immersive gaming experience I have had the delight of encountering, and it isn't even a first-person game:

Teleglitch employs a number of gameplay elements to create an immersive "action horror" experience.

As a military scientist on a backwater, uninhabitable planet, you find yourself trapped in a research station where things have gone horribly wrong. Get to the teleporters on each of the 10 levels, and you will escape. This is the simple premise of the game, but the gameplay itself is certainly not trivial.
The core of the game can be described as a "twin-stick shooter". Using WSAD (or similar) keys moves your character, while the mouse aims them. Left click either uses an item, or swipes with a knife. Don't resort to this if you can help it. Right click brings up an "aim line", which extends depending upon how far the mouse cursor is from your character. With a weapon equipped, left-clicking while also holding right-click will shoot. Some weapons auto-fire, others shoot once per click.
There is a basic but effective inventory system, listed down the left-hand side of the display. The player can use the mouse wheel to select items. Q drops them, holding E allows them to be re-arranged. White items are weapons, red are explosives, blue are healing items, yellow are special items, and green are parts for crafting.
Yes, Teleglitch also has crafting and it, too, is basic, but tremendously effective. Pressing C brings up a list of craftable items, based upon what is in your inventory. Again, using the mouse wheel allows one to select the item required, and left-clicking crafts it. If there is no space in your inventory, you will drop the item.
Levels are made up of interconnecting rooms, and these are randomly placed based on various "parts" each level has. They can be in various orders, but you will always start and finish in teleporter rooms. You can blockade doors with furniture nearby, by simply pushing it. There are secret rooms which must be shot open to gain access.
There are various audio cues that can help the player discern what they may be about to face, and where enemies may be. Teleglitch employs locational audio with some effective audio design. The result is an immersive experience, despite the pixelated visual style.
As you progress through the game, some of the secrets of Militech and their research are revealed, and you will face larger and more dangerous enemies. In classic Doom fashion, you will find that almost every weapon will be useful in different situations. You only have so many inventory slots, but you will want to keep a variety of weapons handy for different enemies. Some may be slow but take many shots, others will be fast and in larger numbers attemting to swarm you, often you will meet many different enemies at once. Combine this with the thick atmosphere of dread, the highly rewarding exploration (storage boxes with medical items become rare treasures), the visceral combat and the distinct feeling of place, and Teleglitch ultimately becomes a unique experience that you will find difficult to put down, or forget once you are finished.
The developers are - as of this writing - putting the finishing touches to the Mac port, and are then looking to add more levels and content. Be sure to consult www.teleglitch.com for more details.