Tag Archives: games

Nintendo 3DS, now with a price cut!

When the Nintendo 3DS was first announced, I wasn’t overly excited about it. The 3D seemed like nothing more than a gimmick I wouldn’t really care about, and the majority of the games seemed like re-hashes of games I’d long since played and beaten. I will admit to salivating over the prospect of a new Kid Icarus though, but aside from that, I was underwhelmed.

So when it came close to release time, I had decided not to pre-order and take a “wait and see” approach. Shortly before the release date when I saw a few of the augmented reality videos (of the games that came bundled) I almost changed my mind. Few folks at work ended up getting it on launch day (actually before) which wasn’t a surprise so I checked it out then. Certainly a nifty piece of hardware, but wasn’t worth it for me to buy right then, so I decided to wait.. I knew the Kid Icarus release would push me over anyway.

Of course, since then the device apparently isn’t doing all that great. The latest ads I see don’t even mention the much hyped 3D, and the games seem to be few and far between. Which led to Nintendos announcement yesterday that starting on August 12th, they’re dropping the price by about a third from $250 to $170. That’s a pretty big price cut really fast.

Despite that, I’m still not sure if I will actually get one or not. The games still aren’t doing it for me. I guess it does make the decision to pick one up easier whenever Kid Icarus finally does come out though.

My thoughts on L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire

Last week I purchased the Rockstar Pass for L.A. Noire which gave me access to all of the DLC for the game. Inspired, this weekend I finished the game completely, 100% story, hidden items and achievements. Actually, I think this is a personal milestone for me since I have 1400/1400 gamer score in this game which is the most I have in any single game.

For those that aren’t aware the game is based around the life of a new police officer in 1947 Los Angeles, Cole Phelps. He’s fresh back from fighting in World War II (and winning the Silver Star), and is looking to be the best cop he can be. You will go on cases, collect clues, interrogate witnesses and suspects and try to solve a wide variety of crimes as you move up the ranks in the department!

Now, I do not know what the budget for this game was, but would be surprised if they didn’t spend a huge portion of it on Hollywood talent. I have never before seen a game in which almost everyone was someone I recognized from television or movies or both. One of the early cases had me exclaiming “Hey, that’s Matt Parkman!” Every time I turned around there was another actor I recognized. There are 21 cases in the main game (plus 4 DLC cases currently), each case having at least 3-4 new actors in it (along with the recurring characters). The credits listed at least 100 different actors which doesn’t even count all of the other people involved in making the game. Given the seven year development time, and this list of talent, I’m sure the cost of the game was much higher than I’m imagining.

The technology they used for capturing facial expressions and displaying them to us during the game was absolutely amazing. While they probably could have made the game without using “real” Hollywood actors, I think the game would have suffered for it. Using “real” actors and this technology was incredibly immersive. It was the closest I have ever seen to getting out of the uncanny valley, and part of me wants to argue it succeeded in getting out completely.

Of course, simply having this technology without using it for some game mechanic would have been silly, and the major mechanic for this game is the requirement that you “read” the person you are interrogating’s face to help determine if they are telling the truth or lying. Having real actors here was both a large success and a bit of a letdown. It was a success because they did an amazing job in getting the emotions across, but at the same time, it was a bit too easy for the same reason! For example, if you tell an actor to say “sit there and act like you just lied”, well, they will look like they just lied!  It was relatively easy to determine whether the response to a question was the truth or a lie.

Having only those two options would have made the game entirely too easy though, so lies (by far the more common response) were broken up into two different categories.  You could either choose “doubt” when you thought they were lying but had no proof or “lie” if you thought you could prove they were lying. The “lie” choice always felt entirely too arbitrary though, much like the old adventure games back in the day. If you weren’t following the exact logic the game designer was, deciphering whether or not you had “proof” of a lie was a dice roll half the time. Early on in the game I figured out that accusing someone of lying would sometimes give you a hint as to what kind of proof was needed, and you could always “back out“ of the accusation so that became the way I played most interrogations. If I wasn’t sure if I had proof, I would accuse them anyway, and if I didn’t get a hint that helped, I would back out and choose “doubt”. Sort of a “trial by error” way of gaming that hints at bad design if you ask me.

The game itself was extremely easy to finish if you didn’t care about your “case ranking” (how well you did) or anything. Finding clues was almost done for you, simply walk around and push the A button when the controller vibrated. Once all the clues were found, the game would play a little chime and the music would stop so you always knew when you were done.

The story of the game was another factor that I liked. It was basically broken up into two overarching sections as you worked your way across five different “desks” in the precinct. You start as a lowly beat cop on patrol before working your way through traffic, homicide, vice and finally arson. There’s an apex of sorts at the end of the homicide cases and the final resolution of the game at the end. The story was well told and kept me intrigued through the end, but I have one big complaint about it.

I hated Cole Phelps. If you remember back from the second paragraph, Cole Phelps is the person you’re playing as. Having the person I’m supposed to be playing (and having a connection to) be on my “I hate this guy” list doesn’t seem to be a great way to endear him to me. What’s worse, I get the feeling that I was *supposed* to dislike him! Towards the end of the game they try to redeem him in the story, which falls flat for me because I don’t want him redeemed since I disliked him to begin with. The flashbacks to the war did nothing but make me dislike him more (and why did he treat Jack Kelso the way he did?) The big “twist” towards the end didn’t make me feel sorry for him, it made me feel he got what was coming to him.

I liked all of his partners though, particularly Roy Earle which is weird because I don’t think I was supposed to like him either. Aside from one time early in the game when he slapped a girl though, I always got a kick out of him.

Having said that though, it’s a testament to both the actor who played Cole Phelps as well as the technology they used in the game that I got such an emotional response out his story, even if I didn’t necessarily like him.

There were also minor complaints in that my interrogations would go from calm talking to yelling insanely accusing people of lying back to calm talking in a matter of seconds, but given the huge dialog trees and the various outcomes that were possible depending on how I reacted, I don’t fault them too much for that. Overacting a bit perhaps, but nothing too detrimental.

I also liked how the DLC packs integrated right into the story if you happened to be playing them then. They were simply more of the same from the original game, but since I liked that, it worked out pretty well! Plus, since each DLC case cost 320 points individually, but I bought the pass for 960 points for all four cases (plus a few suits), it was a great deal!

All in all, I enjoyed my time with L.A. Noire, enough to even go searching around for all of the film reels. Enough to buy all of the DLC packs as well.

The Gunstringer and Fruit Ninja Kinect, $40 bundled!

One of the more difficult things about my job at Microsoft is not talking about all of the cool things we have coming up. Luckily we eventually announce things publicly and then I can talk about them, and today was another one of those announcements!

On September 13th (September 16th in Europe) The Gunstringer from Twisted Pixel will be publicly available for $40. If you don’t know who Twisted Pixel is they’ve put out some of my favorite XBLA games to date (‘Splosion Man, Ms ‘Splosion Man, Comic Jumper, The Maw), and having their brand of humor in a puppet shooter kinect game? I’m looking forward to this one!

What’s even better than that, it will come bundled with a code for the XBLA title Fruit Ninja Kinect. If you think slicing fruit with your finger on a phone is fun, wait until you try it with your whole arm.

This bundle is going to be one heck of a good deal if you ask me, and I can’t wait for it!

Beards and Beaks!

If you follow me on twitter or the like, you may have heard by now that my latest Windows Phone game was just recently released called Beards and Beaks! I’m pretty happy with how the game has turned out, and thus far we’ve gotten pretty positive reviews with an average of four stars, and a large amount of the negative reviews were due to the fact that you can spend money beyond the actual cost of the game (which I can understand the reluctance there).

Beards and Beaks

Gameplay shot!

We had a lot of things we wanted to accomplish with this game, and while it isn’t perfect (what game is?) we did get the big ticket items we wanted in there! We wanted to come up with a game mechanic we hadn’t really seen before that worked well on the phone, and we wanted to enable premium downloadable content on the device. Based on the reviews so far, I think it’s safe to say we accomplished the former, and the latter is pretty easily quantifiable, so I feel really good about how the game ended up!

Meteor Power

Using the meteor power

There are also a lot of misconceptions though, or features people are just unaware of! One of the biggest complaints I see in the reviews is that people think that you have to spend actual money to use the mushroom powers, which simply isn’t true! Now granted, you certainly *can* spend money to use these powers more frequently, but your mushroom power bar slowly refills over time. If you played once a day, you would notice that every day you would have a new full mushroom bar!

Beards and Beaks

Attacking the crows base!

We also have quite a few more leaderboards than it seems most people realize. When you click the leaderboards button on the main menu you will see three leaderboards at first, but did you know the list of leaderboards at the bottom is scrollable? There are quite a few different leaderboards you can see if you scroll that list down! That isn’t even the start of it, every single level in the game has two leaderboards as well (best score and best time)! If you click the button next to the score or time on the level information tab, you will be taken to those leaderboards!

We also have quite a few levels. There are thirty in the base game when you first download it (seven in the trial), and another 15 in the first level pack (which is absolutely free)! Which brings the number of levels for free up to 45. There’s also currently another premium map pack available for $1 (another 15, up to 60 levels), and that isn’t the last map pack the game will see!

Anyone who’s seen my gamertag probably realizes that I love Xbox 360 achievements, and if you’re like me, you’ll be happy to know that getting all of the achievements in this game won’t be a lesson in frustration! It’s possible (albeit unlikely) to get every one of them in your first playthrough of all the levels if you know what you’re doing (and get a little lucky)!

I’m also giving a performance talk at Gamefest in Seattle next month in which I go into the nitty gritty details on the performance gotchas we ran into during development of the game, along with how I found them, and what I did to fix them.  The title of the talk is “Performance Patterns and Pitfalls for Windows Phone Games” if you want to find it in the list!

If you are going to be at Gamefest come find me to chat! Maybe by then someone will know what a Bleego is.

Multiboxing

After being bored with World of Warcraft a bit, I decided to get back into some multiboxing where I’m controlling an entire instance group on my own (5 players). Here are a few videos of my recent escapades with my 5 paladin group!

Archaedas

Princess Theradras

Herod

Razorfen Kraul

Lord Vyletongue