Sunday, February 16, 2014

Can't Wait for Titanfall? Here are some Futuristic FPS Games You Can Play For Free.

I feel that it is my duty as a jaded gamer to start with my "contrarian" sentiment towards first-person shooters. I believe that the FPS genre has not changed significantly enough in almost ten years (with Halo marking the last major change to the genre) that it's not worth paying a full retail price for any FPS. Since the Free-to-Play model has been introduced to the genre, I've been getting my fill on that genre that way, and considering that there have been some great F2P FPS games, it's hard to convince me to cash in on a full-price game. However, it isn't entirely impossible to convince me. Very few full-price FPS games have been able to convince me to invest my hard-earned money into them, let alone make me consider looking into. My most recent exception to my "FPS is not worth my money" policy is Titanfall.

At the time of writing this, the Titanfall developers have been conducting a closed-beta testing session for about 48 hours, but only a select few (including myself) have been selected to gain access to the game this round. Naturally, this selection process has left the rest of the community needing to wait anxiously either for the next beta session or for the final release a month away. Thankfully, those who can find at least a little satisfaction out of watching gameplay video streams can have peace of mind knowing that EA didn't issue a non-disclosure agreement for during this test, but it wasn't always like this before this weekend's beta.

My friends at TheSpawnPoint Gaming Blog posted an article a few days before the beta that featured a couple of leaked videos for Titanfall. When EA announced the game at last year's E3, the trailers showed aspects of gameplay similar to ones that I've experienced in recent F2P FPS games. So naturally, before I watched the leaked videos, I was going to be all negative and dismissive by saying "been there, done that," but after seeing them, I actually wanted to play this game!

To expand on "been there, done that," I believe that Titanfall actually might play like three Free-to-Play games rolled into one. What I find attractive in this game is that it transitions from game type to game type seamlessly, so it would be like playing three of my favorite F2P games at the same time! Who wouldn't want to be part of THAT ménage à quatre of FPS gameage?!

Anyway, here are the three games I think Titanfall might play like....while I could be wrong, at least there are three new games you can play for free. Moreover, since the closed beta is upon a select few who have signed up for it, this may be able to tide the people who didn't get the opportunity to participate in the beta over while they wait for the final release next month.

Planetside 2 (PC, soon on PS4)

This first pick features futuristic, hectic, and beautiful first-person combat. I use "hectic" with a bit of reservation because things only get hectic if there are enough people playing in the same area; otherwise, the maps might be too vast for a 6-8 players to achieve a comparable combat experience. Similar to Titanfall, players are able to traverse terrain with the use of a jetpack or move around undetected with a cloaking device, but these are specific to particular soldier classes. Another major aspect in the game that Titanfall can relate to is vehicular combat. The thing is, you have all the ground and air vehicles you could ever need in full-scale combat, except bipedal tanks. However, if you're in the heat of battle, you will encounter a tank, turret, or aircraft while you're on foot more often than not. This unfortunate situation in Planetside 2 can help you train on the guerrilla tactics required to take down Titans from a distance on your lonesome. However, taking Titans down by jumping on them and shooting their head off is safely a unique experience to Titanfall.

Blacklight: Retribution (PC, PS4)

This is another game that features more futuristic, hectic, and beautiful first-person combat. Unlike Planetside's seemingly uncapped player limit, Retribution features 8v8 combat, so the pace of the game may be much more comparable to Titanfall than Planetside 2 is. Another thing unlike Planetside 2's metagame of conquering territory on a map, Retribution offers many other game modes that seem to also be in Titanfall, like Capture the Flag, Domination, and King of the Hill. Another key element in Retribution that Titanfall can relate to is the "Hardsuit," which is essentially a mech that you call for from HQ (it even deploys from the sky like a Titan!) if you want extra armor and firepower. Armed with a minigun and a railgun, you can take out a whole team of enemy soldiers by yourself if they are unprepared. The Hardsuit also take in a good deal of enemy fire while it keeps you safe. However, the downside to the Hardsuit is that it's very slow and unwieldy, and worse, it can be taken down with a direct hit from a single rocket. Judging from the Titanfall videos, Titans have much more agility, comparatively, and may have more weapons to play around with. Yet again, Titanfall has something unique to offer!

Hawken (PC)

The difference between the previous games that feature futuristic, hectic, and first-person combat is that Hawken features futuristic, hectic, PURE-MECH first-person combat. Unlike the clunky Hardsuits in Retribution, Hawken's mechs are quite agile and offer more than just a railgun and a minigun. But, unlike Titans, Hawken's mechs can jump and even hover while launching a barrage of weapons. Furthermore, players can heal their mechs in the middle of a match. But one thing that you can't do in Hawken is disembark from your mech and fight on foot. Furthermore, the Titan will actually continue fighting for you even when you're not piloting it! These features in Titanfall definitely add much more depth in gameplay, so you can look forward to that when you get your chance to play it.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

PlayStation Home: Renovate or Die

After over six months, I had my PlayStation 3 resurrected from a "Yellow Light of Death" issue with the help of my friend, Gerard (thanks a million for the heat gun treatment!). I hadn't realized how much I had used the PS3 before it broke down until after it was fixed. After getting re-acclimated with using the system, I noticed that I spend a lot of time browsing the PlayStation Store, but not buying or demoing anything. Another thing I noticed is the amount of time I spend in PlayStation Home. But, when I signed back on a few weeks ago, something was different.

All of the Spaces I frequented just last year were empty. It was a pretty jarring experience for me to run around these huge empty landscapes without the familiar bombardment of text bubbles, crowds of dancing avatars, and ridiculous costumes. There was a bit of charm to see the Space actually being used as they were intended, despite the frustration of having to wait your turn to use a virtual pool table or arcade machine. And I was actually getting excited over the growing number of Spaces dedicated to Home games. Sodium ONE was nothing but a great idea, but seeing how empty that Space was just a few weeks ago, it looked like it never caught on.

PlayStation Home Appraisal

Surely, I wasn't the only one that saw the potential of PlayStation why isn't anyone using it now?

All right, I admit, I'm playing dumb for the sake of argument. To be honest, I guess I've always had a feeling of apprehension ever since I signed onto Home the first time. It sounded like a good idea when Sony was marketing it before it came out, but by the time it was released, the idea was already pretty stale.

The personalization features, such as modifying your avatar's likeness and arranging furniture in your virtual apartment, suffered from clunky interface controls, making the process time-consuming and frustrating. The Spaces that you could explore were really large but didn't have much to do in them at all, and having your avatar spend most of its time literally running around in these large landscapes definitely didn't help make things interesting. Communicating with other people was a real pain as well. Aside from having to be within a virtual earshot of the other person's avatar, you either had to struggle with the on-screen keyboard or make a big production to set up a keyboard or headset (or both) just to say hello. Perhaps the biggest setback for the Home experience was the network issues. Home suffered from crazy lag, most likely due to how Home spent most of its time downloading every single avatar–that includes their likenesses and the costumes they wear (which you might not have yourself, which would add extra load)–in the current Space you're in. Shopping for costumes, furniture, and accessories was a real pain because of all the downloading and processing happening in the background....I don't see how anyone would want to buy anything!

With all that said, I honestly like Home and I hope it thrives, but not many people have such low standards as I do for games. I don't have any idea where resolving Home's issues stands in Sony's priority list, but if they want it to survive, they're going to have to make a major overhaul to it if they want it to continue. Below are several suggestions for a "renovation blueprint" to improve on the PlayStation Home experience.

Step 1: A Social Network Should Act Like One

Here is the first, most important way Home can be a better community. Sony goes out of the way to call Home a social network, yet it does little to resemble a social network. One major problem with Home is that it's just too darned flashy for its own good. When someone mentions Facebook or Twitter, the last thing people think of is making an avatar run around aimlessly in a virtual space. Social networks are all about instant access to information...what better way to do that than make Home a simpler menu-driven, chatroom-based experience? Yeah, you read it right: cut out the "running around" part of Home. It's just a boring waste of time to run around anyway. Throwing all of the interaction points in a Space into a simple menu will not only save time, but be able to satisfy the need for instant access to information and also ensure that users don't miss a single thing. Currently, not everything that a user can interact with in a Space is clearly marked, so listing all points of interest will help ensure that people get to see everything the Space has to offer. Lastly, switching to menus would eliminate the slightly jarring disconnect between running around in a virtual space with your avatar to shopping at a Purchase Point. Because Home is supposed to be an immersive virtual experience, having a very non-dynamic menu for the stores is more of an injustice than a simple oversight.

For communications, stripping the interface to a couple of simple text windows really shouldn't be an issue since Home's communication system is already based on how messages are handled on PSN friend lists, so little would change if at all. Furthermore, eliminating the need to place your avatar near other avatars to talk to them would remove all the annoying aspects of communicating on Home and distilling the social media aspect down into its purest form: the chat window. Despite it looking kinda pretty, the colorful mess of word bubbles and the frustration of trying to read blocked word bubbles would be filtered out as well. Mic and keyboard support should be retained for people already using those devices. Perhaps using the chat room or voice chat functionality might see more use in Home since chatting is more relevant there.

Step 2: ...But Keep It Pretty

While I may be preaching that Home should be neutered of its avatar-driven immersion in a virtual world, I never said anything about getting rid of everything. There's no reason why Sony has to get rid of everyone's hard work....devs and users alike spent a lot of time working on avatars, picking wardrobe, designing costumes, furniture and accessories, and laying out Spaces. Heck, some users actually paid real money for their stuff, so it would be bad business to remove everything entirely. So, instead of throwing all that away, just repurpose them.

For avatars, it just wouldn't make much sense to drop them. XBL has their avatars, while Nintendo has their Miis, so it'd be odd for Sony not to have avatars. In XBL's case, they have successfully sold clothes, costumes, and accessories without the use of a virtual environment, so it shouldn't be strange for Sony's avatars to be just avatars.

As for the Spaces, these can be left completely intact, but instead of users running around in them, they can be used as a creative way to represent the Spaces' content. Just imagine that when you first enter a Space, you're shown the entrance or lobby of the Space. If you select Point of Interest A in the menu, the camera zooms through the Space until it reaches the virtual location of Point of Interest A. To add to the aesthetic, the developers can throw in some randomly generated avatars to populate the area and make it look busy (why randomly generated avatars should be used instead of real avatars will be mentioned later). On top of all that, the user's own avatar could be on screen and react while they zoom around the Space...maybe even teleport from place to place.

Another thing to do is allow users to peruse the Spaces with a free-range camera. It was pretty limiting to only be able to take pictures at your avatar's eye level, and some of the Spaces were moderately impressive. Being able to take more dynamic shots of Spaces would make for some sweet XMB wallpapers.

Currently in Home, interaction points in Spaces, such as kiosks or machines you walk up to in able to play a mini game or look at something, usually have a cap on how many users can use them at the same time. Whether this is caused by the PS3's limitations is unknown to me, but perhaps making avatars and Spaces abstract would lift the limit, so people don't have to wait until other people "get off the machine" to get their turn.

Step 3: Optimize Network Connectivity

Like I said before, because Home spends most of its time downloading and caching avatar and Space data, getting rid of Home's virtual reality aspects would relieve most of the strain on the network, so that solves most of the problem right there.

But, what about those users that want to show off their avatar's costumes, etc? This is where Home should follow an "on-demand" model, where instead of forcing all users to download all the avatar data loaded in the visited Space, they should only load the avatars they choose to see. Users should be able to pick from a list of avatars, and be able to drill down to which interaction point they are currently using in the Space. Perhaps for those users that really need to know, add the gender of the users to increase incentive to look around. Or better yet, add some kind of "Meeting Place" for each Space so users can sign into that Space to just strut around. Yeah, yeah, I know that sounds similar to how it is now, but the point is to make the avatar loading process on-demand. Besides, since there are soooo many users that just love to dance around for hours on end in one place, it would be tragic to remove that feature completely, right?

Users shouldn't be forced to load all that data if they don't care about it. When I use Home, I'm not concerned about meeting people....I just want to play games, check out the Spaces, and get free stuff for my avatar. By making avatar data optional, I can guarantee you that perusing Home would be a much smoother experience.

So, as I said before, I really don't know what Sony thinks of Home these days. They don't really seem to advertise it in any kind of big campaign, let alone mention it at a professional level in conferences. All flaws aside, I really hope Home survives the transition between system generations, because there were some really cool things happened. They had music streams you could listen to and request songs; they promoted upcoming games with themed Spaces where you could get exclusive costumes and accessories; hell, they even streamed the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor back in 2011. My favorite part was seeing full-scale games develop on Home. Sodium ONE, Sodium2, Novus Prime, and No Man's Land were respectable games worth playing. Admittedly, I also thought that the people and the community had their moments. Sometimes I signed on to bother interact with people, and honestly, some people were actually pretty cool to talk to.

Sony really had a good idea with Home, but its facade needs a bit of a refreshing. If they want people to keep coming back, they need to renovate or force to shut it down.

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Current Love/Hate Thing with Capcom.

Damn you, Capcom.

Apparently, with all their terrible business practices and lackluster and/or regurgitated content, Capcom STILL has the ability to get me to consider buying more of their stuff.

I downloaded Capcom Arcade Cabinet over the weekend after I found out that Black Dragon/Black Tiger was available to play for free. I have never played the game before, but after I watched the guys at Giant Bomb play it, I wanted in on the action.

Younger gamers may not understand this, but I thought this game was brilliant for a 1987 production. The graphics and animation were awesome (however, a lack of parallax kind of stunted the atmosphere a bit) and the gameplay was typically hard (broken?) for an arcade game of that time. As for sound, Capcom did what they could with the board's sound chip for both SFX and music. I like how each stage's music held a theme, but the tinny instruments started droning on my ears after a couple of hours.

It took me a couple of hours and a million continues to finish the game, but I left the game feeling satisfied and wanting to play more; however, the game isn't the only thing that compels me to fire the game up again.

It seems that Capcom has taken design cues from Sega's Vintage Collection series—a series that I am also fond of—to present their own set of classic games, down to the synth-heavy menu music. I joke around that Capcom shares Sega's ideal that an excessive use of synth wave instruments from a Casio keyboard was how videogame music was intended to sound like back then, but that electronic sound really does have a nostalgic ring to it. Music aside, the presentation of Capcom Arcade Cabinet is really solid. The beautiful collage (right) is actually used as the game selection screen. Each game in the collection is represented by the character (or in the instance of the 194X series, the planes) the player controls. The games you own in the collection have their characters in full color; the games you don't have are just black silhouettes of the characters; and the games with demos available are colored in a faint grayscale.
This is pretty.

Capcom is delivering the games in the collection in sets of three every two weeks, categorized by their year of release. According to what I've seen in the PlayStation Store, people can also grab the games individually à la carte after their respective sets have been released. Giant Bomb mentions in their Quick Look video that Capcom has already announced that once all of the game sets are released, they will be selling the entire set for a discounted price. Contrary to their complaints (they believe that people that purchase the sets as they come out will be ripped off because they won't be getting the discount), I feel that I could easily hold out until the whole collection is available for purchase. My way of thinking is that these games must have been re-released time and time again on various systems in various combinations since the PlayStation. I probably have all of these games (and more) in my original XBox library under the Capcom Classics Collection series, so I think it's pretty bad that they're asking for money from me again. Furthermore, even the extra content—promotional art, production sketches, and trivia for each game—is probably all recycled as well, so what's the point in buying this collection?

This is where I hate myself....Despite having to purchase these games all over again, the presentation is almost irresistible. I've already mentioned the sweet collage, right? Another perk is being able to see all the gallery art at a high resolution. The gallery also provides a music player for each game, so that's really cool....ringtone factory, anyone? Also, for the hardcore gamers out there, there are options like Score Attack, where people can put their best scores on the world leaderboard, a Save Replay (I'm not sure myself, but it will save your entire playthrough data) so you can watch your sessions later, and even a Practice Mode, where players can play stages individually to study and memorize all of the enemy patterns and level design to get that perfect score...legitimately. Lastly, for convenience sake, I feel that stuff like retro gaming collections are best as digital content anyway. Installing all of the games on the hard drive will definitely reduce or eliminate any load times, and I also feel that it's just plain weird to have to pop in a disc to play these games....

Oh yeah, and let's not forget that sweet collage.

Anyway, the first set is $4.99 (only two games), due to the fact that they're throwing in Black Tiger for free, but the subsequent packs will be available for $9.99. There are five packs in total, making the entire set $44.95 via piecemeal, but the whole set, available May 21, will be $29.99. Additionally, there are two "secret" games that you can unlock by fulfilling certain requirements. I hope you don't need to buy the individual sets to unlock these games....that would be horrible on Capcom's part.

On a side note, I noticed that the initial download was 1.5GB...considering that the original ROMs are comparatively tiny, and all of the gallery art and extras are such a high resolution, I'd say that you're downloading the entire set from the get-go, and you're just paying for the unlocks. To me, despite this sounding similar to the Street Fighter × Tekken "everything is on the disc" debacle, I don't find this much of a problem...probably because these old games are already complete. I don't know, I guess I have a bias towards Capcom's older games.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Why Didn't T9 Get Popular Again???

So, after giving my phone's QWERTY keyboard (when oriented vertically) a chance for a few months, I decided to switch it back to T9 layout. Yeah, I'm stubborn like that, but I'm REALLY glad that my phone offers the T9 layout (iPhones don't offer that key layout readily). Aside from the touch buttons being a better size for my fat thumbs, I was one of those people that lived through the pre-iPhone text communication era using T9. Despite that most people I knew also used T9, I also knew people that didn't understand it. It's these people that make me think that's why T9 didn't have time to shine before mini QWERTY keyboards became the popular standard.

But, my question is...WHY did it become so popular? Here's what I don't get...I looked around the internet for a bit to find out why people prefer QWERTY over T9, and I found that a lot of people felt that QWERTY was more intuitive to use because it's like how a full-size keyboard is set up. Not to sound like a touch-typing elitist, but do you equate typing with your two thumbs with typing with all ten fingers? I feel that this issue goes beyond a matter of preference....we live in the year 2013, where most modern households have at least one full-sized computer. We've used keyboards for work, play, and most importantly for this case, communication. Furthermore, even when I was going to high school in the 90's, taking a typing class was almost's probably much more unavoidable these days. I don't see how people can possibly think that they can type faster with their two thumbs if they've learned how to type using home row.

How about convenience? With T9, I can type on the phone with one hand, and have been for years. Typing a message with one hand allowed me to do something else with the other hand. To be of a competent speed with QWERTY on your phone, you need to use two hands. That certainly doesn't work well when you need to send a message while holding the pole or an umbrella on a subway train. Even if you could type with one hand, having all those buttons, especially on a touch screen, makes it difficult to type accurately with one fat thumb, provided that your thumb can reach all of the buttons without cramping in the first place.

In the defense of non-T9 users, perhaps it was a matter of confusion. Before T9 was ABC...remember that? It used the same 12-key phone layout, but to pick a letter, you would have to repeatedly press the designated number to cycle through the letters until you got the letter you wanted (i.e. to get 'O', you would have to press the 6 key three times). Admittedly, when I transitioned from ABC to T9, I was confused myself; before I realized T9 was predictive, I had no idea how to control it. But, with a little patience and a little research, I got the hang of it really easily; however, not everyone is so patient with technology. That's probably why T9 didn't take off.

While you can't type the same on a full-size keyboard as you would on a phone keyboard, QWERTY is more identifiable with typing than a number keypad. To be completely honest, the QWERTY keypad (especially those on Android phones) does have its advantages, especially when you consider finding punctuation marks (just hold the letter key marked with the desired punctuation mark for around a second to select the mark). When you hold the phone horizontally, using the QWERTY keyboard is perfectly fine, but since you hold the phone vertically more often than not, I choose T9 over QWERTY.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Remember This?: Speakers' Corner on Citytv

From time to time, a random thing from the past just hits me while I'm doing something completely related to that thought. This morning, while walking to work, a random quote crawled into my head:

"Get on with it!"

This quote specifically was spoken by an old man with a German accent, holding up a handwritten sign saying the same thing. I don't know what the guy was talking about, as it was just one of many clips shown in the commercial for a Canadian television show, Speakers' Corner. Back when it aired, I didn't care to watch it, because I thought it was boring drivel. In many cases, it really was drivel, but the one thing you couldn't deny was how the show was years ahead of its time.

Not to be confused with the British public-speaker event, Speakers' Corner was a Canadian television program that started in 1990 by the Citytv network (you can get more details on Wikipedia, here). It started in Toronto, but then panned out to the other major cities across the country. Anyone in the area would be able to go to the video booth, pop in their dollar, and get their two minutes in the spotlight (provided that their footage would be selected for the show). People could talk (or sing) about anything they wanted, provided it was suitable for the airwaves, and the Citytv editors would aggregate their picks for the week and make a 30-minute show.

Most of the people that showed up on this show were just regular people, but a few talented people would use the video booth to launch their careers, like the Barenaked Ladies. Even already-established stars, like Mike Myers, Will Ferrell or Weird Al Yankovic, would show up at the booth to say a few things or share a few laughs candidly.

After remembering this TV show this morning, I thought to myself that this show couldn't have possibly survived to this day, considering that we now have social networking at our disposal to whore ourselves out. Sure enough, the show was pulled off the network in 2008 for the same reason I thought about. After realizing when the show first came out, and how long it lasted, it blew my mind a bit. Just think about it...Speakers' Corner was YEARS ahead of both social media AND reality television. I wonder if Citytv even understood that what they were doing was so revolutionary.

At the same time, I wonder if the good ol' video booth would still be popular if instead of it being broadcast over the network, it'd be posted on the Citytv website somewhere. When you think about it, not everyone knows how to set up their smartphone to record and post a's like the 2010's equivalent of programming your VCR to record a weekly show. Having someone do all the work to record and post might still appeal to a large enough crowd...

Ah, whatever....sometimes there are just some trends that aren't meant to be parachute pants. In any case, it was just a funny thought to remember something like Speakers' Corner.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two-Sentence Reviews: Start Trek TNG Season 1 Episiodes - Part 1

Hey, people.

After we got Amazon Prime earlier this month, I decided I would take advantage of our free Instant Video privileges by watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in its entirety.

Overall, things aren't looking too good for the series...Berit observed the episodes that we've seen of the first season so far have been terribly hokey, and neither of us remember the show being this bad back when we were watching it on TV. Pretty much, the only thing driving us to continue forward is the strong hope that the series really does get better in the later seasons. Until we finally reach the good stuff, Berit inspired me to make reviews of the episodes with an interesting twist.

I'm not very good with keeping things short, but that's exactly what I'm going to try doing. As the title suggests, I'm going to try reviewing the episodes in two sentences. I feel that boiling the review down to two sentences might make it sound more like heckling, but considering what we've seen so far, who could help but heckle the show?  Also, I'm not a fan of the Roddenberry era of TNG, even if he was the creator of the whole Star Trek thing. I liked the series when Rick Berman took over the show.

Anyway, I know I've already said enough. On with the reviews!

"Encounter at Farpoint" (Episodes 1 & 2):
Apparently, Amazon only has the pre-production version of the pilot, so things looked weird without sound effects. And I still can't believe they made the space squids hold tentacles like lovers into the sunset...

"Naked Now":
In this episode, the writer exercises his right as a sci-fi writer to be able to make something happen in the story without any specific explanation as to why or how it happens. That said, I STILL think Data getting drunk after getting it on with Yar was dumb. :)

"Code of Honor":
I swear, the score was pulled right out of the original series' archives, as well as the hokey plot; however, it was better than the "second one". Get it?!

"The Last Outpost":
I feel that the makeup artists finally caught up with the writers about designing the Ferengi, since the Ferengi were mentioned in the pilot. They did a good enough job with the makeup and costumes, but I can't say much for their decision to use electric pool noodles for their weapons.

That's it for now. I'll make more two-sentence reviews as I watch more episodes. Honestly, I watched some of the later episodes, but I'll keep my reviews in order.

Until then, Laserz!