All Things Final Fantasy and PS2

I've been playing quite a bit of Final Fantasy III, which I picked up from the states because it is going to be released at some unknown time over here. I've been enjoying it though it doesn't have the same involved story as later games in the series. I also think they've done a good job sticking to the original but wading through a dungeon only to get killed by the boss (and having no way of saving before then) is very annoying. Anyway unlocking the Dragoon job in Final Fantasy III made me fancy playing Final Fantasy IX again. I didn't enjoy the game the first time around but I figured I might have been missing something. I'm still not enjoying it that much (mainly because of the slightly messed up way it seems to deal with the ATB system) but probably more than I enjoyed it the first time around.

Also, awaiting Final Fantasy XII to final drop in Europe I bought a RGB SCART cable for my PS2. The difference is amazing, I can't believe how much sharper, and better, the PS2 looks with it. I also can't believe that they bundle the composite cable when the image is so much sharper with a RGB output. I played a few games just to check them out and then changed back to composite to make sure I wasn't imaging such a difference but, sure enough, it really is massive difference. I think I'll get an RGB SCART for my GameCube as well if the output can be made to improve like that.

As a quick note I notice they are looking to make a couple more Final Fantasy Tactics games. Mmmm.


Game Update

Why not quickly update you all with the exciting game playing I've been doing.

I recently finished Company of Heroes. An utterly fantastic game and highly recommended. I'm looking forward to the editor to see what I can do and what other campaigns and maps will be generated. For now I'm trying the skirmish mode.

Also I got a Nintendo DS to pick up Final Fantasy III which I ordered from the states since, in the unwritten SquareEnix law, Europe gets the shaft. Again.

Anyway awaiting Final Fantasy XII made me decide to try and complete a few of the earlier ones (or play through them again in the more modern ones).


What Gives?

Is there a good reason that Gears of War and Call of Duty 3 are coming out on the same day? It's bad enough of that Gears of War has been doing this whole hype machine Emergence Day thing and then proceed to make if a different day in Europe but both games are out on the same day both in the states and over here. Now you might argue that they both aren't in the same field (even though they both are FPS games). But when you are paying £50 for a title then suddenly the thought of buying two in the same week becomes daunting (as you release you are spending 2p less than £100). Anyway with that in mind I think I'll just wait until Christmas instead and not get either. I do look forward to playing both titles but I'll wait.


Dark Me...

So a little later than North America we got Dark Messiah over here. I had a busy weekend and I was trying to cram in a few hours with this game. I've been looking forward to the game since I played the demo. Started it up it carried over all the settings I had in the demo. Great. Played through the Prologue again, quickly, to get on to the new stuff I hadn't seen. New cutscene revealing much more of the plot (interesting stuff). Followed by the next level loading with lots of static where talking should be and then the game crashing in the scene. A quick visit to the Steam forums... one of the files downloaded is corrupt validate the download. Did that and it fixed, great! Played a little more, it hung (in a way that means you have to turn off your machine, Windows can gracefully shut down if you wait an age to end the task). Tried again, it hung. Tried reducing the graphic quality and it hung less (though not entirely); which makes sense since my graphic card is puny but then the graphics settings was something it picked automatically. Tried to find a happy medium work ok on one level but on the next (where the demands are probably higher) it hung. Tried another fix from the site. That caused the game to crash to desktop. Upgraded my video drivers (hey, just in case). That caused it to crash more as well.


I went to play Company of Heroes to help me contain my increasing annoyance.

It's been a problem that has plagued me with Source games for a while (well Half Life 2 as well). I don't like games crashing on me but I understand that sometimes building something for all the permutations of system configurations isn't easy at all. Still it has been a long standing, common, issue so you'd think they'd put the resource onto tracking down that bug. What annoys me the most is that it doesn't just die it renders the machine unstable too resulting in a reboot.

Anyway except, maybe, a couple more goes I'll wait for the forthcoming patch to see if it resolves the lockups. If that fails I'll play it when I get a new PC.


Interesting Pricing Scheme

Since I'm subscribed to the Steam RSS feed then I get all the information about the new games that have just been added. Civilization IV has just been added. I thought great, now if someone is online who doesn't have it we can suggest that, if they are interested, they can go pick it up and it will be downloaded in a couple of hours. But it is coming out at the full retail price of $50. That's before another few dollars tax is added on. A quick look at one UK site, Play showed that it was £17 there (which is about $30). I expect that they can't offer it below their retail price because they'll risk annoying the stores. Surely they can justify the cost of producing the manual and such could knock of a bit of the price? I see lots of benefit in the digital distribution model but it won't really make an impact until it is competitive. At that price I'd have a hard time convincing myself to suggest anything other than a friend order it online and wait a few days.


A Weekend Of Gaming

For some reason this weekend pretty much became a weekend of gaming and not much else. It started on Friday when I completed the standard mode in Dead Rising and unlocked the overtime mode. I then went back to Enchanted Arms which I'm not really enjoying but it's become something for me to complete and put on the shelf. For me the game fails to have a particularly gripping storyline and this isn't helped by the way conversations are handled with the scene being displayed in the background and the characters being rendered in a flat way at the front of it, nor by the fairly dull combat system that means that one combat has little relation to the next in terms of resource management.

Saturday I carried on with a little Enchanted Arms anyway along with playing the Company of Heroes demo (more on that in a bit) and the Dark Crusade demo with a bit of Medieval: Total War II demo chucked in for good measure. Dark Crusade doesn't disappoint and seems to be a great expansion to the Dawn of War series as a whole. I noticed they have a campaign mode that looks a bit like the territories map you get in the Total War series which is a great draw to the game. Later on Saturday I was going to go out and chill with friends but instead three of us ended up on Teamspeak playing Civilization IV. It was a good game and got me thinking that it might make a great present for my dad and brother and we can have a male family bonding session over the Internet. It sounds like a plan (it's ok, neither of them read my blogs).

Anyway on Sunday I was in town and bought a copy of Company of Heroes after I enjoyed the demo. It's an interesting one, that game, since it was only brought to my attention by someone playing it. A friend of my thought it was a FPS but became more interested when discovering it was otherwise. How do these games slip beneath our radar? Anyway it's been fantastic and Relic have done a fantastic job of drawing you into the atmosphere and really making you battle for the territory.

I think that pretty much covers what I did this weekend.


Advertising in Games Part 2

Silent Hill

I wrote about this a while back when I first heard about the plans.

There currently seems to be a bit of an outcry about advertising in games. I found Penny Arcade's comic on it insightful. One thing that that comic does outline that I never thought of was that it might not be a global ad for the game but a personal ad (based on the usage of other ads). This would mean you couldn't use the ad as a reference point in the game (so the whole I'm approaching the McDonald's ad wouldn't work).

To go back to the statement that it adds realism I can't agree with that about Battlefield 2142. It's well over one hundred years in the future, how are the ads realistic? How do they help the atmosphere of the game? They don't. I understand using advertising on cars in racing games, banners on the pitch in football games but this doesn't seem to be authentic to me. I'm pretty sure it's detrimental to the atmosphere on the game and I fail to see how it would be a good thing.



A recent post from Steam stated that:

Naked Sky Entertainment, an independent game studio located in Los Angeles, and Valve announce RoboBlitz™, an Unreal® Engine™ 3 game, is coming to Steam®, the leading online platform for PC games, in the coming weeks.

This leads me to wonder if I get it for my PC or my XBox 360 (it's coming out on Arcade for the 360). It's multiplayer and therefore either I exclude potential XBox Live goodness or some friends on the PC.

Though it isn't a game made by Epic it is interesting that a game using the Unreal 3 Engine (I think that sounds better than Unreal Engine 3, don't you agree?) is coming to a platform primarily designed for the Source Engine games.


At The Movies

I had a few friends around (only one of them has a blog and one of them was my brother). We met to have a games film night. Since we started late and people seem to have a life we only got through two films namely Doom and Silent Hill.

Now I know as well as most people that films based on games tend to be poor so I wasn't expecting much however even my low expectations were more than met with Doom. It was really bad and then some. First they stripped the main thing about the game, mainly that hell has come to Mars. Instead, for no real reason, they blame it on genetics testing. Second they invent this Ark thing to transport people from Earth to Mars maybe they felt landing crafts and such would be too close to Aliens. Of course they couldn't escape the fact that the lab scenes were reminiscent of that film. My high point of the stupidity of the film was when they went down into the sewers. Here they are, on Mars, with 87 people working there and they have a sewer system with tens of thousands of gallons of water jetting around. What? Did they have a spare sewer set that day or something?

Anyway Silent Hill was better. It was actually pretty good. The plot was kinda random (I was expecting that though) but visually it was nice.

Anyway that was an interesting experiment though sticking to the games seems a smarter thing to do.


Too Lazy To Game?

Quite some time back Endie and I were talking about the fact that many people would take their XBox 360 gamer score very seriously and that the difficulty in unlocking achievements would be a factor in a game's purchase. It seems that someone is now offering a service to gain achievement points. I can't really understand why I'd want to. Surely part of the point about getting achievements is that you've achieved it? Also presumably this means you have to hand them your XBox Live details so they can log in as you (also do you get to chose the games you unlock or will you suddenly become a Fifa fiend).


Difficulty Levels In Computer Games

I bought Dead Rising when it came out in the UK and I've been playing it a while but it has got me thinking about the difficulty curves in games. I messed up a few missions in Dead Rising and that made points later in the game more difficult. In turn that escalating difficulty made leveling up more difficult which made more points of the game difficult. For example I failed to kill a psychotic clown, had I killed him I would of unlocked a shortcut to another area. If I had done that then later, when I was trying to save four survivors then I would have succeeded. This would have given me more experience points making it easier for me to finish later points of the game. This is an inversely proportional difficulty, that is the more skilled the player is the easier the game becomes. I'm going to look at this in more detail later but I'll look at a few of the models I've seen in games.

Flat Model Difficulty

A lot of games fall under this category to one degree or another. A lot of Real Time Strategy games are like this (Dawn of War as one example). At the beginning of each level you are back to square one and given a fixed resource to work with. It doesn't matter if you just scraped through the previous level or managed to succeed with flying colours. Generally these games also follow a game trend where the levels become increasingly difficult; it's a game mechanic rather than following more of a real world example where you'd assume the dwindling resources of your enemy would mean that you were in a stronger position as you progress. Many first person shooters also are like this. In Half Life you start each level on a roughly equal footing to any other player. You might have more ammo or health but generally a good game designer will balance this out by providing a stock up area to put people on equal footing.

Often these games will increase the challenge by allowing the player to pick the difficulty (maybe dynamically, or when they start the game). An experienced player can increase the difficulty to match their skill to insure the game is still a challenge for them.

Proportional Difficulty Model

I can't think of many examples of the model. Sin: Episodes is one example. In that, if you die the game begins to reduce the difficulty of the enemies deployed automatically. If you are doing very well the game will increase the difficulty automatically providing a more difficult challenge to players that can handle it. It's important to provide players with the ability to control this themselves as well so a good player that isn't looking for it to become frustrating can still tailor their game. This model helps insure a challenge for all players without, hopefully, becoming frustrating.

It's a good model to implement as it makes the game fun for everyone while not consciously making them change the difficulty. However a developer may find it more difficult to scale events dynamically like this.

Neverwinter Nights also uses this for random encounters though the fixed encounter fights don't scale like this. So players may find it easy (where it is picking lower level encounters) until they get to a scripted fight where they'll find it impossible (because the boss doesn't scale to challenge them correctly).

Inversely Proportional Difficulty Model

Finally we have the model that made me think of this in the first place. This model is understandable as it rewards skilled players and penalizes poor players. The first thing you need for this model is some level of persistence in the game. Grand Theft Auto isn't an example as though you might fail to achieve missions or progress in the game each mission is an instance which has no knock on effect to the rest of the game. In dead rising achieving certain missions will reward you with experience points (giving you new abilities) and routes which will help you in later missions. Long term strategy games such as Rome: Total War and Civilization also create a situation where a bad start might effect the entire rest of your game. Roleplaying games tend to also create a situation in which a good player can hoard items and gain levels easier than a poor player.

Though rewarding people who are skilled is good (as it makes them feel they've achieved something) this is a bad situation. Good players might well find the game too easy and poor players will find the game impossible. The easiest way to rectify this is to offer difficulty levels so the player can find a difficulty level that they are happy with. Another way is to playtest all rewards to insure they don't give a huge long term advantage.

I like this model, it is just a difficult one to balance properly.



Maybe insomnia setting in should be reserved for my personal blog but failing to sleep made me decide to talk about a game I was playing last night; Bang!. I found it a really fun game and I was a bit surprised at myself for not playing this before as I can be a bit of a Western fan. Anyway the Wiki entry is pretty good at describing it. I found the dynamic of the game interesting. The fact that some people want to defend the Sheriff even if the Sheriff doesn't know that.

Right maybe I'll try that sleep thing again.


Advertising in Games

I was just reading in IGN about EA dynamically advertising in games I like the comment:

advertising is not only nice to have, but it's an essential component to create the fiction of being there

I agree that it might well add to the realism of the game in question but the real motivation isn't to make a more authentic gaming experience it's to create another revenue channel. I doubt this will result in the games in question being cheaper though. It will be interesting to see if they allow it to be turned off (in the event that someone doesn't want this added realism) or whether we'll see a bunch of people blocking sites in the same way as they do with banner ads.

Blogger Upgrade

Not Related to gaming at all but with the blogger upgrade I've upgraded the template on this site. Let me know if you have any problems with it or such.

I bought Sin Episode 1 from Steam yesterday. One of the reasons for doing this is it was $15 which is a really good price; even for a short game. The second is that it's a Source based game and with all the problems I've been having with Half Life 2 at the moment I thought I'd see if I had with another game using the engine. I played it for about an hour and a half with no problems. Still something to do with Half Life 2 then. That's good as Dark Messiah looks good and I'm hoping it runs ok. Anyway Sin has been really good fun so far. It's not breaking any new ground on the FPS front but it keeps the pace well and has a good action feel to it.



I love steam; the way it burns through your skin... ok I'm really talking about Steam; Valve's online content delivery service which I have more of a love/minor irritation relationship with. At first I had an issue with not actually having a physical copy of the game but it wasn't really that much of a hurdle to overcome to realize that I don't really care about owning the box just the product and the idea of not needing to hunt around for where I left that DVD case appealed so I quickly got over that.

I was playing Half Life 2: Episode 1 with commentary on and recently it just started crashing for no reason. At first I assumed it was something to do with hardware but now I think it might be a regression in one of the background updates. This presents a problem since I didn't know about that update until I read the RSS feed I had on it and suddenly the game stops working without me knowing about it. Of course that's more of an issue with testing a patch rather than with the content delivery system.

I just bought X3 from Steam after moaning about a game working on it. I haven't actually had a chance to play it for any length yet. This is another point about Steam. All games I've bought (as far as I recall) I've preloaded so they have been ready for launch. In the case of X3 it was quicker than buying it from an online store but longer than going to a shop and buying it, taking it home and installing it from DVD. Still I am prone to buying things at 1am so Steam really helps this :D and given I'm looking to buy Dark Messiah on Steam rather than in a store then it is quite obvious I prefer it as a platform over traditional purchasing methods.


Level Design

I decided to get back to some level designing and attempting to create a map for Half Life 2 using the Hammer Editor. I've spent a couple of hours with it (just, not long at all) and it doesn't seem quite as friendly as the Unreal Editor which I previously used to create a map for Raven Shield.

Though developers are willing to put in extra time to develop maps the ability to quickly develop maps and change them is very important to professional developers and fans alike. Recently the Unreal 3 engine has been adopted by EA along with use in a few other studios. Maybe it's time I revisit that and see what I can do. However not before I play around some more with the Source engine.


Console VS PC

I've go through phases in my game playing of prefering to play games on a console and playing games on my PC. Recently the playing fields have been somewhat merged as I'm using my HDTV as a monitor so the visuals and sounds of both my consoles and my PC are the same. Consoles have a certain instant feel about them. You buy a game for a console and you know that it will run ok and that you won't have any problems installing the game to play it. On the other hand Keyboard/Mouse (and I know that is just an accessory) is still my choice of tool for FPS and consoles are still yet to really use that. On the other hand I tire of upgrade cylces and that realisation that games just won't run on well on your machine any more can be frustrating. Not to mention the plathora of config settings can mean that games just don't work on your system or that some background task is messing it up.

I've been more drawn back to my PC recently. That is in part because I've been trying my hand at some level design and that's something that isn't really available on consoles. Also I can pick up some games for my PC for £15 compared to £40 on an XBox 360 and that sort of price difference can't be ignored. Still saying that I'm very much looking forward to Dead Rising and a host of other games for my 360.


PSP PSOne Emulator


First post in a while but I'll try and post more regularly. Rumours of a PSOne emulator on the PSP? I think it is a bullshot; look at the game list: Final Fantasy VII. Even assuming they then put in redevelopment time to compress it to a single install (instead of three disks). I can't see it kicking in at less than half a gig (remember CDs are still quite large compared to Flash Disks) and you'd need a big chunky memory stick to store more than one game. Then again; maybe Sony hopes that you'll go out and buy a nice range of memory sticks to hold your games on.