tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

How not to port an arcade game

Suggoi! Arcana Heart 2 gets put through the blender en route to PS2

I was under the impression that the era of lousy ports was behind us. Apparently I was wrong.

(By the way, it’s not just graphical problems – there’s apparently lag as well)

In other news, I was playing some KOF’98 Ultimate Match on my PS3 today and it locked up when I tried to exit the game. Turning it off and restarting it basically yields…nothing. Looks like it’s bricked.

I wonder how annoying Sony’s repair process is…

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Gaming odds and ends

This post might be a little disjointed – I’ve been playing a bunch of games recently and thought I’d just pen down my thoughts in one single post since I don’t really want to write five separate posts in one night.

Team Fortress 2

Valve has patched the game twice since the Scout update, yet the Sandman remains unfixed (although they did manage to break rocket jumping while trying to fix an exploit that made it harder for Snipers to get headshots, and they did break Natascha’s slowdown effect yet again). I’ve played in a few big games since the update, and I’d say the stun is overpowered even if you discount the fact that it affects ubercharges. I have not yet seen a single Scout that doesn’t try to tag me with the ball the moment I see them, and in a few circumstances they’ve managed to stun me for extended periods at close range, allowing them a free kill. One particular incident that comes to mind occurred on the second point of the second stage of Dustbowl – I was playing Soldier and standing on the point when a Scout ran out from the central tunnel, ran up to the point and threw his ball at me. I was stunned for a good 3 seconds or so, and this was from being tagged at close range.

The response from the competitive community has been very clear. CEVO has banned the Sandman, and from what I’ve heard a bunch of the other leagues like ETF2L have followed suit. Keep in mind that this is the first unlockable weapon that they’ve actually banned. If I recall correctly they didn’t even ban the Pyro’s Backburner back when it granted a ridiculous 50-point health bonus.

The response from the rest of the TF2 community has been less distinct. While there are a few players who recognise that the weapon is clearly overpowered, the vast majority of the community’s response has been ‘LOL LERN2TEAMWORK.’ By this they’re implying that somehow Pyros need to have their entire team with them when they try to circle behind enemy lines to attempt an ambush, so that they can successfully fend off a class that they were previously on a reasonably even footing against. And of course, if your Medic successfully builds up an ubercharge by being a good healer and deploys it on a friendly Demoman in order to take out a Sentry farm, only to have his uber rendered useless by a flying baseball, that’s his fault for not being a team player.

Surely the absurdity is obvious.

I’m hoping that, like they did with the Backburner, Valve will realise what a terrible beast they’ve unleashed and make some sort of fix. A popular suggestion seems to be to change the stun effect to something akin to the effect of Team Fortress Classic’s concussion grenades, but honestly I think they need to go back to the drawing board with this unlock. Never mind that there are a few achievements that depend on it – go back to the design phase and get it right this time. And for God’s sake stop getting your unlock ideas from the Steam forums.

I’m starting to wonder if I should be playing Fortress Forever instead…

Lost Planet

This was recently on sale on Steam for the irresistable price of $5. I’d only ever played the demo previous to this, and I thought it was alright, so I decided to see what the full game was like (even though the superior Colonies Edition is out now). I’ve played the first few missions, and it’s not too bad. I can’t quite get 60fps out of it, but shooting up giant bugs in snowy wastelands is pretty fun. My main complaints so far are that the game is kind of easy (I haven’t died once yet) and that Wayne’s default movement speed is a little on the slow side, even when he’s piloting one of the giant VS mechs. I guess I’ll see if these continue to be problems as I progress through the game.

Still, this has me interested in the recently-announced sequel – I wonder what improvements Capcom will bring to the table.

King of Fighters ‘98 Ultimate Match

I started playing KOF (and indeed, fighting games) with King of Fighters ‘99, but I respect KOF’98’s place in the order of things. Given that disclaimer, I rather like ‘98UM. It doesn’t have most of my favourite characters, but the (remarkably solid) system changes they’ve made to the original game make this a must-buy for any KOF fan, I’d say. Most of the changes they’ve made revolve around making Extra mode more interesting, and it seems to have worked. Extra mode users now benefit from the ability to cancel normals into dodges, and to cancel certain special attacks directly into MAX mode. On top of that they can choose when they want to break stock unlike vanilla ‘98 where the bar started draining as soon as it filled up.

In addition, the new Ultimate mode, which allows you to mix-and-match subsystems from both modes, poses some interesting possibilities. Do you want the mobility afforded by the roll, or will you trade that for the ability to dodge and quickly counterattack (and extend your combos using the quick dodge)? Do you want the ability to do SDMs at any life level, or would you rather have the ability to max out in mid-combo for the possibility of turning your otherwise staid B&B combo into a more damaging variant?

As for the quality of the port itself, fortunately the US version of the game seems to have turned out pretty well – progressive scan support is intact, and as far as I can tell the game has been brought over more or less unmolested, which should be a relief for anyone who was horrified by Ignition’s handling of the PAL versions of King of Fighters XI and NeoGeo Battle Coliseum.

So yeah, if you don’t have the import version already, go out and get this one. It’s $20 – you really have no excuse if you claim to be a KOF fan.

Street Fighter IV

I’m still getting used to the physics and timings, but at the very least my win ratio seems to have improved a little (in that it is no longer zero). My MadCatz Tournament Edition FightStick arrived two weeks late, but I used the Amazon gift certificate I was given as compensation to buy a PS2->PS3 controller adapter so I could use my old Tekken 5 Hori stick with the game until it arrived (makes me wonder why I didn’t do it earlier, actually). So far I’ve mainly been sticking to Ryu and Abel, with some failed attempts at using Fei Long and Dhalsim (both of whom apparently have a pretty steep learning curve). I’ve played a few games online, mainly against Orochinagi members; I’ve played a few random strangers, although I haven’t run into any of the Ken players of legend. I suppose I should be thankful.

On a side note, the MadCatz stick doesn’t work for PS2 games. I don’t know why I didn’t see this coming, as this was also the case for the Sega Virtua Stick and the Hori PS3 sticks when they were released. The best I can hope for is for support to be added in the next PS3 firmware update, I guess.

BlazBlue

Now, I haven’t actually had a chance to play this game yet, but PS3 and 360 ports were announced recently. A lot of fighter fans are understandably excited about this, but a potential issue with the port has already been raised. The arcade version of BlazBlue runs at 1280×768/768p, while both current-generation consoles are locked to outputting at 1280×720/720p (and indeed, won’t let you play the game at its native resolution). The full extent of the problem is laid out pretty clearly over at the Insomnia forums.

In short, it looks like the great sprites and backgrounds are in danger of being butchered by scaling. If the blurry upscaled sprites in all of SNK Playmore’s Atomiswave releases bugged you, well, this is just as bad. Possibly worse, since it’s one of the first high-definition 2D fighters, and really deserves more respect.

At this point, given that ArcSys can’t go back in time and re-program the game to output 720p in the first place, the only real thing they can do is to crop 48 lines from the top and bottom of the display to avoid affecting the sprites. This is what they seem to have done, but the screenshots still lack the definition of the arcade version. A rep from Aksys (the company handling the US release) has gone on the record as saying that apparently the screenshots they released of the 360 and PS3 versions were smaller in size to make them ‘download friendly’. This just seems ridiculous to me, given that stuff like this is typically distributed through special press FTP servers where presumably bandwidth wouldn’t be a concern.

We’ll have to see how this shakes out, but I am rather worried that we’ll end up getting a butchered port of one of the first high-def 2D fighters.

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Whittling down the backlog

This past weekend I cleared another couple of games off my backlog – Metal Gear Solid 3 and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

First off, here’s what I thought of MGS3 as a whole.

The removal of the passive radar system from all previous games makes the game somewhat harder since you’ll have to lurk unseen to figure out what the guards’ patrol routes are. On the other hand, though, I thought the food and camouflage systems were pretty useless – the former is basically there to annoy the hell out of you by forcing you to hunt for food every few minutes and the latter is redundant since the camouflage types come equipped with a handy percentage value to tell you exactly what you should be wearing when. The cure system seems similarly ultimately pointless since the game pretty much tells you exactly what you need to use to cure your wound – and I never ran out of supplies (at least on Normal difficulty).

That said, it did have some great moments – the boss battles are way better than MGS2’s for sure (with the exception of one), and I found the lack of backtracking through the same areas (for the most part) to be an improvement over the first two games’ almost excessive use of it. The action sequences are generally less awkward than those in the first two games, although the first part of the game (when silencers are in short supply) is somewhat harder than the rest of the game.

So yeah, I thought it was a decent game, with some odd trappings that didn’t really make sense.

As for Uncharted, I thought it was generally a well-polished third-person shooter. It’s not quite like Resident Evil 4 where you have an inventory and can stock up on items, guns and other such stuff, nor can you really buy items. Healing and weapons are handled similarly to the Halo series, in that you can only have 2 weapons at any given time (one single-handed weapon and one double-handed weapon), and that you recover health gradually after avoiding damage for a certain period of time. In addition, unlike RE4 you can move while in ‘aiming mode’, and can also ‘fire from the hip’ while running. The game also features a Gears of War-like cover mechanic, which is pretty much the main way you avoid taking damage during combat.

Overall, as Yahtzee mentioned in his review, it’s a game that borrows extensively from games that came before it, and ends up being somewhat greater than the sum of its parts. I actually think it isn’t quite as challenging as RE4, partly because the enemy AI is somewhat retarded and partly because of all the additional abilities Nathan Drake has over Leon Kennedy. Still, I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out if you have a PS3.

So I’ve beaten the only PS3 game that I have…I suppose I could get Metal Gear Solid 4 if I wanted to.

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My game collection just got 200 times manlier

Played through the first level – pretty damn great.

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What I’ve been playing lately

Time for a good old-fashioned gaming post!

Company of Heroes

I finally decided to put some RTS gaming on my backlog. This game is developed by Relic, who are also responsible for Homeworld and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (as well as the upcoming Dawn of War II) – so their catalogue is pretty strong. As one would expect, therefore, Company of Heroes is pretty good. It focuses less on base management and more on front-line battle tactics, unit placement and maintaining supply lines (by holding territory). I’ve played a few missions of the first single-player campaign and it’s pretty great so far. As far as balancing goes, it seems to take a similar tack to Starcraft in that your units all have distinct strengths and weaknesses, and you need to use them to compensate for one another.

Team Fortress 2

I’ve been trying to play more Soldier and Spy, but honestly, I’m terrible at both, so I almost always end up falling back on my ‘safe’ classes – Pyro, Medic, Heavy and Engineer. Soldier is tricky for me since I’m still trying to get used to aiming ahead of where my opponents are, which isn’t always easy to do when they’re running straight at you. On the other hand, once I do manage to juggle opponents, capitalising on it to finish them off is something that’s starting to come naturally to me. Spy, though…man, those Youtube videos make the class look so effortless, don’t they. I think the most backstabs I’ve gotten in one life is 3 or 4.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence

I’m actually pretty close to putting this to bed. I’m at the final boss fight (which is annoyingly difficult because of the terrain and the associated time limit, not to mention the fact that outside of first-person aiming mode MGS3 has the same old clunky gun controls from the first game. I will say that the game as whole is pretty good, although I honestly think that the interface for selecting stuff like camouflage is pretty clunky (they did away with it in MGS4 which is good) and the entire hunting/food system serves no purpose other than to annoy the hell out of you. CQC I thought was kind of cool, although I don’t think I necessarily used it to its full potential.

Fallout 3

I decided to press on with the game inspite of my initial misgivings. The game is actually quite hard if you try to play it like a run-and-gun FPS. Which you can’t, really, unless you want to run out of ammo ten miles from any safe house with only a baseball bat to bludgeon Raiders to death with…not that I’ve ever done that *cough*. Half the time I end up wandering into some new town and getting eaten for lunch by some new enemy that seems to be at least ten levels higher than I am (most recently, giant fire ants). The weird uncanny valley people and spotty voice acting still bother me, but the game is at least reasonably challenging so I can’t complain too much, I guess. My first runthrough (as with Mass Effect) will be with a goody-two-shoes type character (although I did enjoy planting a live grenade on an unsuspecting Raider while I was invisible).

On a side note, Games for Windows Live (which Fallout 3 makes you install if you want to download patches) is decent enough but it feels rather pointless. There are a few games that you can play online using it, two of which are widely regarded as terrible ports of console games (Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto IV) and the remaining two of which aren’t particularly remarkable (Universe at War and Lost Planet: Colonies Edition). Other than playing online, the only thing it’s really good for is tracking achievements, which is kind of cute but an ultimately pointless feature. Hopefully the PC version of Street Fighter IV lets you play online with 360 players or something, because they are in serious need of some killer apps.

Also, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida is stuck in my head ever since I bought the album of the same name and the associated EP Prospekts March off Amazon MP3 this past weekend. Not that I’m complaining…

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The list of doom, August edition

Here’s last month’s edition.

Games that have been knocked off the list due to completion:

  • Devil May Cry 4 – Beat it on Devil Hunter, although honestly I don’t think I’m really done with it yet. I can’t say that I’ve really mastered any aspect of the game (except maybe Nero’s Devil Buster but it’s LOL EZ anyway).
  • NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams – I’ve gotten all my C ranks and unlocked the true ending to the game, so it’s leaving the list. I’ll still keep trying for A ranks and better scores from time to time, though (it’s a freaking score attack game – who wouldn’t). Maybe I’ll put some footage up here when I try it out.
  • Zack & Wiki – I’ve beaten the main story quest, but I haven’t found any of the hidden treasures yet. Still, that’s good enough for me for now.
  • Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition – Beat it shortly after my last list of doom post. I’ve fiddled around a bit with the other modes (the Ada side missions and the Mercenaries minigame) but I haven’t gone back to the game yet.

Games still being played:

  • Super Mario Galaxy – Would you believe I’m still stuck on that one Luigi purple coin mission?
  • Advance Wars: Days of Ruin – Really haven’t touched it at all.
  • Sonic Rush Adventure – That last Sol Emerald is a bitch.
  • Mass Effect – I’ve just finished up the Noveria story quests. It seems that there really aren’t that many main story quests which is a little alarming, but I’ll see what happens. I’ve started to get a good feel for my final opinion on the game, too…and it’s a little uneven.
  • Beyond Good & Evil – Still fun – I’m right after the part where Pey’j gets kidnapped (spoiler).

Games that were started and beaten over the course of the month:

  • Metal Gear Solid – Great boss fights, great sneaking areas, terrible gun controls, WALL OF PLOT is annoying.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance – Boss fights are somewhat less great, sneaking is much more fun, gun controls are better, WALL OF PLOT is still annoying.

New entries on the list:

  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence – Not too far in. I can’t say I’ve gotten the hang of CQC yet – for some reason every time I try to grab someone from behind I end up throwing them and setting off an alarm.
  • Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword – this is surprisingly good for a handheld conversion of Ninja Gaiden. There are some cutbacks (simplified combos, only one melee weapon and two ranged weapons) but otherwise it’s fast and furious just like the console versions.
  • Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – my first PS3 game! Think Gears of War crossed with Resident Evil 4 with a minimal bit of Tomb Raider splashed in for good measure. Very polished and slick – nothing to complain about so far.
  • Bionic Commando: Rearmed – I never played the NES version, but even so this game is pretty cool. While the levels and bosses themselves are pretty well-designed, I particularly like the Portal-style Challenge Rooms.

And that’s it for August!

It just occurred to me that my Wii backlog is basically empty now (except for Galaxy). Any Wii game recommendations? Keep in mind that I’m a lonely bastard who plays games by himself all the time.

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Five hundred and ninety-nine US dollars

I’ve been hearing rumours that the 80GB Metal Gear Solid 4 PlayStation 3 bundle was soon to go the way of the dodo, and with it all backwards compatibility from the product line. I was pondering whether or not to take the plunge and shell out the cash for one of these bundles, but an e-mail that popped into my inbox at work swiftly resolved those thoughts.

A guy at work was selling his 60GB PS3 along with a few games, for the bargain price (relatively speaking) of $450. I wasn’t particularly interested in some of the games he was offering (Tiger Woods and Madden…right), but I realised that that sort of price for the long-discontinued 60GB model was a pretty damn good deal, so I jumped at it. Hence the shiny black monster now perched next to my 32″ HDTV.

The machine is remarkably quiet, even with a disc inside it – noise elimination was clearly one of their priorities in developing the hardware. Heat is another story, though – I tried to reposition the console slightly to make space for something else and the underside was almost too hot to touch.

That said, I don’t have much else to complain about. I’ll probably put Ubuntu on it so that I can use it as a media center (without being restricted to the formats that the PS3 supports natively). And now that I have something that can actually use the hi-def capabilities of my TV, I might start buying more DVDs (and downloading content from the PlayStation Store – I hear Xam’d is particularly good).

Games? Err, I got Guitar Hero III along with it, but until I clear my existing PC and PS2 backlog I’m probably not going to buy anything else for it. I’m still halfway through Devil May Cry 4 and I suspect I’ve barely scratched the surface of Mass Effect.

On a somewhat related note, I beat Metal Gear Solid at last (after disovering the first-person aiming option in the escape level which was never revealed to me, and in any case was rather difficult to use). Of course, the game rewarded me by freezing up right after the credits, preventing me from saving my complete file. Joy.

Overall thoughts? Rather rough around the edges, but it did have enjoyable moments.

I put a few minutes into Metal Gear Solid 2 – the two main things I brought away from it were

  1. Yay aiming doesn’t suck as much!
  2. Boo the cutscenes are still way too long.

I’ll probably only continue once I get the PS2 memory card adapter I ordered from Amazon tomorrow, so I can move all my save data onto the PS3. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the PS2 yet, but I’ll probably take it back to Singapore the next time I go.

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I went outside on a weekend, holy crap

Went downtown to see The Dark Knight today. Great movie, and I really enjoyed it. Very satisfying, and no real bits that stuck out to me as forced or unnecessary. Heath Ledger’s Joker was suitably sadistic, random and occasionally morbidly funny. I’m a fan of Mark Hamill’s Joker from the animated series, but I have to say Ledger did an excellent job.

In addition, a certain other Batman villain shows up (you should know who it is if you’ve been paying attention to any of the trailers at all) and while the treatment given to him in this movie is somewhat different from how he has been portrayed in the past, I thought it was pulled off very well.

The only complaint I had was Christian Bale’s Batman voice. Maybe I’m just spoiled by Kevin Conroy’s superlative treatment in the animated versions, but I have no idea why Bale’s Batman sounds like he has lung cancer. Apparently this was an issue with the first movie as well. Not only did it sound weird, it also made it hard to understand what he was saying at times.

In any case, go see it.

On my way back I popped into a Gamestop and picked up Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword and Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection. I’ve put in some time with the former and it’s really good for a handheld action game. I’m really not used to being able to block, though, being a long-time Devil May Cry player, but I suppose it’ll come with time.

MGS should be interesting…I played parts of the first game on PC, but I never beat any of them. Time to see what all the fuss is about.

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The list of doom, July Edition

Here’s last month’s edition.

Games that have been knocked off the list due to completion:

  • Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition – well, Dante’s route on normal anyway. I’ve started a Vergil playthrough, but it’s more like something I can do if I’m in the mood. With this I can finally claim to have beaten a DMC game!

And that’s the only game I managed to beat last month.

  • Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition – Still on Mission 5-2.
  • Zack & Wiki – No progress here either.
  • Super Mario Galaxy – Took a few stabs at clearing that Luigi coin mission, and the closest I came was 80-something coins before my reflexes failed me.
  • NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams – I set my sights a little lower and decided to go for all C-ranks first so I could unlock the true ending to the game. Unfortunately this is easier said than done because some of the side missions are really fucking stupid.
  • Advance Wars: Days of Ruin – Gathering dust. For some reason I simply can’t bring myself to finish that particular mission.
  • Sonic Rush Adventure – Set a few more personal records in time attack, but otherwise nothing else. I’ve noticed that the physics in this game are quite broken (at least as far as Sonic games go).
  • Mass Effect – I’ve unlocked my character’s specialised class (went for Shock Trooper) and after spending ages on sidequests I’ve finally started on the main story quests again. Still pretty good so far – the universe is interesting, and conversations with the supporting characters tend to reveal some interesting nuances over time.
  • Beyond Good & Evil – Played a bit more. This feels like a Zelda game with most of the tedium/treating the player like he’s five years old stripped out. So far, having a lot of fun with it.

The only “new” entries on the list?

  • Diablo II: Lord of Destruction – Nostalgia got to me after the Diablo III announcement. I’m rebuilding my old Zeal/Fanaticism Paladin (boring build, I know, but it was the first D2 character I ever made). In addition I’m playing a summoning Necromancer for playing online with PenPen.
  • Devil May Cry 4 – So far it’s definitely easier than both Devil May Cry and Devil May Cry 3, but still rather fun. The Devil Bringer isn’t quite as interesting to me as the instant rev and other frame-specific moves like Table Hopper and the instant Exceed, which are the main source of depth in Nero’s play style.

Stay tuned for next month’s update, when I reveal pretty much the same list with no changes whatsoever!

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The list of doom, June Edition

Here’s the original list.

Games that have been knocked off the list due to completion:

  • Psychonauts – I didn’t get all the scavenger hunt items, etc, but I was level 50 by the time I hit the final boss, and he didn’t give me much trouble.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – Excellent game, but that final boss was far less challenging than the platforming area that led up to him.

Updated progress for the remaining items:

  • Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition – No progress made. Haven’t touched my PS2 in a while, actually.
  • Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition – Mission 5-2. @#%@ Regenerators.
  • Zack & Wiki – No progress made. I don’t expect any will be made for a while, actually…
  • Super Mario Galaxy – No progress made. That Luigi purple coin mission is really hard if you just bumrush it without any planning (like I tend to do)
  • NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams – Finished the main story on both sides (not that it was hard, there being only 3 levels on each side and a common final level + boss fight). But I always try to play platformers to completion, so my next target is A-ranking everything. Yes, that includes that music mission in Memory Forest, a mission whose designer really needs to be shot.
  • Advance Wars: Days of Ruin – I, uh, played a few more turns of mission 13. Still haven’t beaten it.
  • Sonic Rush Adventure – I’ve been doing more time attack runs than Sol Emerald hunting, if you get my drift.

New entries on the list:

  • Mass Effect – Level 20, just picked up Liara T’Soni. I’m playing as a Soldier, and will be going for a Paragon rating, like the goody-two-shoes that I am.
  • Beyond Good & Evil – I actually haven’t gotten very far in this game because of a weird bug that causes my framerate to drop like a stone when I’m in the overworld. Just to remind you all, this is a 2003 game having problems running on a 2006 video card.
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