Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Video Games that were begging for more.

Some games made me cry. Others left me hollow. Others made me scream! So what about the games that could have been good but were begging for more?



GARFIELD: CAUGHT IN THE ACT
In the late 80's through the mid 90's, everyone was a Garfield fan, so when a Genesis (Mega Drive) game came out starring that fat cat, I bought it just because of that.

It's an appropriate concept for a fat, lazy cat who doesn't do anything but eat and watch TV. A glitch sucks Garfield into TV land and now he must fight his way through multiple TV worlds to get home.

Worlds include an Egyptian level (a la The Mummy), a pirate level, a caveman level, and a black and white level set in the Casablanca time period. It resembles an episode of Garfield and Friends that parodied the Twilight Zone in which Garfield is zapped into various TV worlds.

All the sprites are drawn by Jim Davis, which makes it even more special. The ingredients were there for a stellar game.

Garfield has only two attacks, projectile and melee, and he doesn't have much range or agility, so no matter which you choose odds are you're going to take damage. The levels are imaginative, but they're short and linear. The enemies Garfield faces aren't much of a challenge, and don't take any thought or skill to defeat.

The bosses, however, can get interesting. My favorites are the Egyptian level's boss and the Glitch, the ending battle. Play the PC version to get the cool music and it's a memorable fight.



I love that laugh.

It's not a bad game at all, but even as a kid I was unchallenged because there are so many health fill-ups and ammo pick-ups lying around it's almost impossible to die. Just look how many pizzas are on that final boss. How can you lose? It's just plain too easy. I found myself trying to make the game harder by intentionally messing up on certain areas.

Fun levels, but they aren't big enough. Too linear, not enough variety in gameplay, and there isn't enough to do. This game needed more of everything.



SONIC R
The first PC game I bought with my new Dell back in 2002. I was hyped up because it was a game I couldn't have played on my previous computer and I was eager to see what the next step in graphics looked like.



Seems like a natural thing to do, putting Sonic in a racing game. The problem is there are only five tracks, and they're very short. The characters we know and love are rendered in 3D, but the polygon count is so low they look awful (almost forgivable at the time, though).

The game is also unbalanced. Knuckles is the best character to use as he has speed and stability, while Sonic has speed but no traction. Eggman and Amy are slow and useless. Tails' flying is so limited he may as well not even have it.

It's a tiny game, so it tries to make up for it with unlockables. They're a joke. Teddybear Tails? I hoped for a better reward than that!

The soundtrack is refreshing. Lyrics in game background music. That's unique, and it's decent...as long as you don't take the time to learn what the lyrics actually are.



can you see
the sun is shining on me
it makes me feel so free
so alive
it makes me want to survive!

...poetic?

Yeah, they're not the best written, but I gotta admit they are kinda catchy. Too bad the levels are so short you'll never hear an entire song in the game, which bugs me.

This is a half-backed Mario Kart. Needed more levels, longer levels with more variety and more characters and items. More of everything!



MECHWARRIOR 4: VENGEANCE
I was a Mechwarrior fan in the days of Windows 98. Mechwarrior 3 was badass! The graphics were killer, the controls were ridiculously complicated and counter-intuitive and the campaign was engrossing. Short, but potent. You play a lanceleader whose strike force is destroyed and now you and your meager team must complete an entire army's objectives alone. Absurd, but hey gamers like to be the center of the universe. I ate it up, and then played the game online!

Then Microsoft's game studio took over the franchise and produced a fourth Mechwarrior game. Mechwarrior 4 features a campaign about a duke whose family is murdered, and now he's fighting to retake the throne from the evil Steiner family that stole it from him.

Well, the opening video looks nice for the time:



Then you get into the game and what the hell is this?! The graphics are... cartoony. MW3 was realistic, but MW4 made everything look like a damn cartoon. It's difficult to show in youtube videos, but the graphics were a step down in realism. Maybe you can tell from this video:



As if that weren't bad enough, the campaign is poorly written, poorly acted, poorly filmed, boring and not much of a challenge at all. The so-called "cut scenes" are just people talking to you over the com system. Mechwarrior 3 had great voice acting. With only two exceptions (the mechanic, and one of the villains. Rolan is his name I think) Mechwarrior 4's acting is awful. Watching people talk to the camera is uninteresting and adds little in the way of story. It totally fails to add any sense of scope to the situation.

On top of that, the music is poorly used. Songs play once, then the rest of the level is silent. It's a step up from MW3's music (two tracks which play over and over through the entire game), but it's still awkward.

About the only reason anyone played the game was for the multiplayer, which was a major improvement over what MW3 had to offer. But the same problems still hit the game. People would just load a mech full of the most powerful weapon in the game, hide behind mountains and shoot you with it over and over. It led to sneak and hide battles, which I despised. I preferred infighting, but MW4's setup discouraged that. The only way to get a balanced, fair fight was stock mechs, but hardly anybody did that.

The Mechlab was greatly improved, but it's not enough to make up for a weak, poorly-acted, boring campaign, uninteresting multiplayer and cartoonish graphics. MW3 will always be my definitive Mechwarrior game. MW4: Vengeance needed a lot more of what MW3 had.

Perhaps I should check out the tabletop version. Find out what the original game was like.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I am a game music junkie

I am a game music junkie. I know this because a while ago I played some of my music through the Apple TV in the livingroom. The screensaver shows all your album art, and I was shocked when I realized that literally half my music collection is video game music. Some things you never grow out of.

When I was a kid, I didn't find any music I liked. I wasn't into anything that was currently out, like Michael Jackson or M.C. Hammer or Vanilla Ice or... whatever kids were listening to in the 80's and early 90's. Nothing that was popular caught my ear.

The closest I came to actually becoming a fan of any group was Shadowfax, but it was more of a "close enough" kind of relationship than being a real fan.

I was, however, a video game fanatic, so it's only natural I noticed the music in the games I played. It was the only thing I remember that actually caught my ear, so I did what any kid in my position would do: I took a tape recorder, propped it up to the TV and recorded my NES and Gameboy.

I made multiple tapes of video game music over the years. Some of the game music I recorded included: Kirby's Dreamland, Kirby's Adventure, Yoshi's Cookie, the Ninja Turtles games, Tiny Toon Adventures: Babs' Big Break, Tetris, Tetris 2, and on and on.

Later on I would take the tape recorder to my Sega Genesis and PC, recording the Sonic games, Ristar, Ecco 2, the Doom games, Dare to Dream, and so forth.

I even got my friend, Andrew, in on it and recorded some music from his Super Nintendo, such as Earthworm Jim 2, Star Fox, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario Kart.

In 1994 or 95, I finally found a musician that caught my ear, Mike Oldfield, and I gobbled his work up. In spite of that, I never stopped recording game music.

One thing that pissed me off about PC game music at the time was that it was all MIDI. This meant that if you changed computers, you changed soundcards, and that meant the MIDI mapping changed as well, so the music in the games would sound different. This was especially aggravating with Doom, because I liked the way the music sounded when I first heard it. Upgrading computers changed the music and I hated how it sounded afterwards. I made game music tapes to try to stop it from changing.

Too bad I didn't know about stereo sound back then, so I only got one channel of music on tape. This wasn't a problem until I tried recording PC music and some Genesis games. Hey, I was a kid. I didn't have the equipment or knowledge to wire the consoles into a stereo and record it directly.

In the days before computers, mp3s and the internet, kids had to innovate. I had to work for my music! These days you can download gamerips, and game music is so good it actually gets a CD release! No more holding tape recorders up to TV speakers! Now I'm downloading mp3s and full CD soundtracks of the games I play!

Some things you never grow out of. I've gotten to the point where I buy the soundtrack to a game I like even before I finish playing it. Sometimes I buy games just to have new music to listen to. (Thank you, Humble Bundle.)

Only one of the game music tapes I made as a kid survives to this day. The others were either lost to time or destroyed by tape players. I have not listened to this tape because I'm afraid of ruining it, too.

My collection of game music is vast these days. For those who might wonder, here's a list in no particular order:

Portal
Portal 2 (game review)
Ratchet and Clank (entire series, except All 4 One) (game review)
Bioshock 1 + 2
American McGee's Alice
Schizm (game review...sorta)
The Binding of Isaac
Darkstar: The Interactive Movie (game review)
Super Meat Boy
Mechwarrior 3 + Pirate's Moon
Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance
Botanicula (game review)
Kirby's Adventure
Myst (1 - 5) (game review)
Uru
Unreal
Unreal 2 (partial)
Dead Space
Dead Space 2 (one track) (game review)
Lone Survivor
Adventures of Batman and Robin (Genesis)
Sword & Sworcery LP - The Ballad of the Space Babies
Corridor 7 (game review)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1 + 3 NES, both arcades)
Ken's Labyrinth
Vault Archives (Fallout 1 + 2 soundtracks)
LIMBO
Microsoft Fury 3
Tr3s Lunas II (Mike Oldfield's Music VR project. It counts!)
Amnesia: The Dark Descent OST (game review)
Machinarium (game review)
Samorost 2
Battletoads and Double Dragon (SNES)
Earthworm Jim 1 + 2 (SNES)
Startropics (one track)
Wario's Woods (SNES, two tracks)
Yoshi's Island (one track)
Primal Rage (CD soundtrack)
Sonic 3D Blast (Saturn)
Sonic R (PC)
Doom (official CD release, + rips from Doom 1, 2 and Final Doom)
Donkey Kong Country
Garfield Caught in the Act (PC)
Jurassic Park (Genesis, one track)
Knuckles Chaotix (Game sucks, music sucks except for ONE TRACK!)
Ristar
Sonic CD (Japanese and US. Both are equally good.)
Sonic Spinball
Vectorman (one track)
Sonic Adventure (game review)
Sonic Adventure 2 (a couple tracks)
Sonic Heroes (the ONLY good 3D sonic game I've played)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, 3, & Knuckles
Ecco the Dolphin (Sega CD) (game review)
Ecco 2: The Tides of Time (Sega CD, Genesis) (game review)
Ecco: Defender of the Future
Blaster Master
The Neverhood
RAMA (gamerip)
Bastion

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A second barrier to communication

More proof that language is the greatest barrier to communication.

Language is a strange thing. People say this all the time, too:

"Well, I had a [insert problem here], and I don't know if there's anything you can do for me, but [insert rambling].

Recognize it? Instead of actually asking if there was anything I could do to fix their problem, people state "I don't know if there's anything you can do for me." I'm expected to interpret that to mean they're asking me to help them and I should look for ways to do so, when in fact they never asked me to do anything.

Here's another one:

"[Insert your name here], I wish you would stop [insert something here]."

The person is not stating he wishes me to stop doing something. He's declaring that he wishes I would, and I interpret that to mean he's asking me to stop it. But he never said.

I think this is one thing that's getting me in trouble at work. These people are making statements like this all the time. Sometimes instead of finishing the thought they trail off, expecting me to jump in and answer the question they never asked.

"... and I don't know if there's anything you can do for me but..."

And the person trails off, waiting for me to do something for them.

But I'm waiting for them to ask me a question. I'm waiting for them to ask me to do something. People probably interpret this as rude. I'm breaking some unspoken code of ethics that states I must fill in the gaps of the other person's communication.

Whenever I point out that the other person has not asked me to do something, but asked "if I would mind" doing it, they interpret that as rude and argumentative as well. Probably is, but the other person did not ask me to do something. They asked me if I would mind. Maybe they don't like it when I point out how unclear they're being?

Why don't we say what we mean? We are wishy-washy and vague by implying what we mean, counting on the other person to know what we mean when in fact we have not stated it at all. This creates a situation wherein we expect the other person to just understand us, and if they don't, we blame them for not interpreting us correctly when in fact it is we who are at fault because we were unclear in the first place.

Why don't we simply be bold and make ourselves clear? Why do we expect other people to understand what we mean when we have said something else? Wait. I just did it didn't I? See, it sneaks up on you.

Be bold! Make yourself clear! Don't expect other people to understand what you mean when you haven't said what you mean!

One of the key elements of being a good writer is overcoming this colloquial expectation. Everyday speech is full of vague statements which rely on the listener to interpret properly. Writing can't get away with that. Writing must be very clear or else it won't form an image in the mind. If anyone is looking for a tip on how to start writing, or how to be a better writer, that's step one.