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My new life in Oblivion…

I have spent every spare waking hour of the day lately playing Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Its an awesome game: if you like deep, open ended single player computer role playing games, then Oblivion is definitely worth a look.

Oblivion is set in the Empire of Tamriel in the world of Nirn, a world […]

Its true: Alienware has been bought by Dell

I was really hoping it wasn’t true, but apparently it is: Alienware is being bought by Dell.

Why don’t I want it t be true? Well, Alienware builds hand-made boutique machines for the serious gamer. Dell builds commodity by the tens of millions for the home consumer. Dell is so much bigger than Alienware […]

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion- I want it!

I rarely actually finish big RPG games. You know, the ones that take 100 hours of play time to complete. Generally, not finishing the game makes me frustrated and a bit disappointed in the whole process…and less likely to buy the next one.

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Uncanny Valley…

I’ve heard people say that they prefer the graphics in World of Warcraft over those in EverQuest 2. The discussions I’ve had with people about why they feel this way seem to boil down to a description of the characters in EQ looking “plastic”, “like corpses”, or “not cool”.

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F.E.A.R demo

I downloaded the demo for F.E.A.R. today. Talk about totally smashing any hope of getting into the Christmas spirit! The demo is impressive: if the rest of the game is as good as this preview, the game as a whole must be as good as Halflife 2. Assuming you liked Halflife 2, and if […]

EverQuest celebrates Halloween more than I do…

I’m not really a big “halloween” person. Our house is the one on the block with the shades pulled down and the lights out on halloween night. But I do appreciate good game design effort.

The folks at Sony have added some “halloween” cheer to the world of Norrath in EverQuest II. There is […]

XBox thoughts

I’ve had my XBox for a little over a week now. In that time, I’ve played maybe 10 hours on the box, and spent another 5 hours putzing with setup and hardware. I now feel qualified to offer a bit of an opinion.

I’d say that Microsoft’s XBox is a pretty cool piece of […]

Doom 3

I’m playing Doom3 at the moment. Its the most claustrophobic, frightening, heart-rate-increasing game I’ve ever played. I’m far from finished (barely even started), so I’m not yet ready to write a review or form a final opinion. Consider this an “early review”.

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Thief III: Deadly Shadows

First off, I should point out that I’ve never played any of the other Thief games. But I have read about them. The “thief” in the game is one Garrett, a mysterious fellow adept with a lock pick, bow, or blackjack. Garrett’s place is in the shadows: the Thief games are first person sneakers, which basically means that you are better off skulking past trouble rather than running into it head on.

So, with the stage set, how was the game? Graphically, Thief III is top notch. Lighting and shadow are, not surprisingly, very important in this game, and are rendered well. The moonlight shining through a window produces diffuse beams of light with motes of dust…its actually quite pretty. Sound is also very important: much of the time, Garrett is hiding in a corner and risking a peek at the nearby guards could be deadly. But hearing the footsteps as the guards complete their rounds is nearly as good as seeing the guard.

The hard part with a sneaking game like Thief is the AI…

… and I am happy to say that Thief III does an excellent job in the “smarts” department. The guards have nice, regular “beats”, but if you (or someone else) makes an unusual noise, they are off to investigate. When searching, they are more sensitive to new noises…this leads to tension and makes the whole “sneaking” process seem real. And guards aren’t the only citizens of the city Garrett plys his trade in. The shop keepers, bar maids, and others wander the streets, react to unconscious bodies and blood, and fight (or run away screaming) from the baddies unleashed as the game progresses.

And this variety of “background players” is something that really sets Thief apart. Unlike a lot of games in the “action” metagroup, Thief III places you in a environment that has more to it than just the next linear objective. The guards, shopkeepers, citizens, and two main factions in the city aren’t really part of the “core” story at all, yet they can help or hinder you at every stage. Need some spare cash to buy equipment for the next mission? Maybe that wealthy noble walking by with the heavy looking purse can help out. Or perhaps you’ll overhear a conversation about something worth stealing.

And those factions I mentioned? Well, the citizens themselves have their own enemies and agendas…regardless of what Garrett is doing, fights and battles will break out, attracting the attention of less politically inclined citizens. And as the plot progresses, even some of the “monsters” start mixing it up with the the townsfolk- there were a couple of running battles that kept me pinned in the darkness for long periods of time. The deathtoll was astounding, ordinary citizens were running around screaming and trying to hide…not big crowds, mind you, but enough action to make the situation complicated and interesting.

Despite his preference to keep to the shadows, Garrett isn’t completely unable to “mix it up”. In a pinch, in perfect health, he’s a toe-to-toe match for an ordinary armoured guard. And if killing is your style, Garrett can snipe from a distance with his bow, or sneak up behind someone and use his dagger very effectively: the only “downside” is the blood left behind, which can attract unwanted attention. Other weapons you’ll discover include landmines, knockout gas, and several “utility” arrows to put out lights or silence footsteps over otherwise noisy floors. I won’t reveal anything to speak of regarding the main plot. It has plenty of twists and turns and, for me at least, was quite engaging. On normal difficulty, the game took me about 30 to 35 hours of play time to complete. That’s using plenty of save games and quick saves, both of which Thief supports in unlimited quantities. Levels load somewhat slowly, as do save games, but performance is overall quite good. Bear in mind that my normal gaming station is fairly powerful.

All in all, I was very pleased with Thief: Deadly Shadows. I’d give it a 93 out of 100 on the Kelly rating scale. […]

UPDATED: Far Cry…and the meaning of challenge

Computer games…I’m a big computer gamer, and so I spend probably far too much time thinking about and playing computer games. I recently bought FarCry, a fancy first person shooter. I hadn’t really been planning on buying it, but I wanted a diversion one day, and I had read a lot of very positive things about this game.

So, here I am playing FarCry. Its got very pretty graphics. A tropical paradise, rendered in bump mapped 3D, complete with real time shadows, reflective/translucent water, skeletal animation, and sophisticated physics. In this tropical paradise are a lot of people with guns, and your character is supposed to be trying to figure out why they sunk his little cruise boat and kidnapped his passenger. So far, so good…

This game is renowned for its sophisticated artificial intelligence in addition to its graphics. I’ll say one thing for sure: the guys wandering around the island with guns are no slouches…

They “talk” to each other, and when you shoot one of them, there is a good chance that several others will hear about it. And if one of them gets to a radio, well, you can count on even more of them showing up. All sort of realistic, I suppose. Also realistic is the way that, even with heavy body armour, you can only take so many hits before you die.

I started to find that FarCry was not just realistic. It was punishingly realistic, and in all the worst ways. You play one character, up against dozens. Your foes all have good weapons, armour, helicopters even. You don’t have save games: you have to make it to a checkpoint, which invariably comes somewhere right after you really needed it. The enemy is all together too alert: shoot one, and six or ten come to find out why their buddy dropped dead. They take the high ground, and man heavy machine guns. They can hear you sneaking prone 30 feet away. And somehow if you throw a grenade into a 10×10 room with three of them, all three of them will survive. All of this leads to playing the same thirty second scenario in the game over and over and over again, as you die and fall back to the same checkpoint.

I can’t say I’ve seen any particularly amazing examples of artificial intelligence in the enemy: sure, they all become alert when one of them dies, but they also will walk right over a dead body and not turn and go somewhere else- seems kinda stupid to me. I don’t feel I have to play “smart”…being smart and sneaky doesn’t seem to work. If I could play “smart”, I would be able to kill a guy quietly with my knife and hide his body. But the way the guys are set up, that never works: there are always four more looking at the guy I off, and even if there aren’t they somehow seem to just “know” that their buddy has been killed. Instead of being smart, I just have to die enough times to figure out exactly which corners each bad guy is going to pop out around from, and then kill each based on my past life experience…

I’ve been playing FarCry on its easiest setting for two weeks, maybe 12 hours total, and made it through 1.5 levels. Looking at it another way, I’ve probably made it through 1.5 levels 20 times. To put this in perspective, I finished Max Payne in 10 hours, Max Payne 2 in 9 hours, Call of Duty in about 23 hours…I’m not a bad player. In FarCry, I’m getting to know the deck of a certain rusty old ship extremely well. And I’m starting to really, really hate a certain helicopter.

I don’t mind realism in a game. In fact, its something I like to see. But I also play games for fun. And I guess that’s what I have to wonder about with FarCry…is it really fun? Do I really want a game that is so realistic that its frustrating? Does the absence of a save as you go feature really make the game more challenging? Or is it just a cop-out by the developers to make it seem like they have delivered more content than they really did by forcing you to play it over and over again?

I’m not really slamming FarCry. Its a good game. I’m just not sure I’d call it a “great” game. And I’m wondering whether all the guys who are calling it awesome are seeing something I’m not, or if they are just afraid to admit that its frustrating as hell to play.

Update: I continued playing FarCry to completion…I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess. But here’s the thing: I overcame some sort of mental block, and the game became easier. I figured out how to move better: earlier, I was spending most of my time prone, but I discovered that crouching or even running was often wiser. I figured out how to get the drop on the “bad guy” more reliably. And I figured out how to shoot down helicopters, and how to lure them back to the big machine guns to make this easier.

Once I started making progress, FarCry became a lot more fun. After four or five more levels, I decided to resort to “cheating” to keep it fun. There is a mode you can enable (run the game with the -developer flag) that lets you save the game whenever you want. Now FarCry is pretty darn good.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that FarCry is the best game in years like some gaming magazines have. There were plenty of flaws in the AI, for one thing. Numerous times I would find mercenaries trying desperately to climb up cliffs or getting stuck in corners and allowing me to blow them to smithereens without retribution. In one memorable instance, the Cowboy-hatted leader of the mercenaries stood in the middle of a pond and did nothing to defend himself once I had killed off all of his sidekicks: I expected a better fight from him. And a truly “smart” AI would have the enemy falling back, picking up healing packs, arming with better weapons and grenades as they find them: instead, I set myself up to the side of a doorway and kill six or seven “elite mercenaries” in a row as they queue up to die. The most “intelligent” thing the FarCry mercenaries do is call for help and detect me early: often before any reasonable human being ever could.

I also am strongly and firmly against the whole “checkpoint” mechanism of save games. Take this message, developers: treat us like adults and give us a “save anytime” save game mechanism. If someone wants a challenge they can choose to not save the game- how hard is that? If they want to spend more time playing and less time repeating the same content over and over, they can save lots and lots like I normally do. Everyone is happy…

In the final analysis, FarCry is an “Excellent” game- I would rate it as a 90 on the 1 to 100 “Kelly” scale. […]