Half Life Orange Box Impressions

OK, despite the graphic, so far I’ve only played Team Fortress 2 and Portal. At first I thought I might replay Half-Life 2, then go into Episode 1 and Episode 2… then I remembered how many games are coming out this fall and realized that wouldn’t work!

TF2 is awesome. It’s the kind of team- and class-based multiplay that I really like. I tried out all the different classes. Haven’t settled on a favorite yet. The first couple games I got into had really bad conneciton problems and I got dropped, but after that it was pretty smooth.

The Incredibles-type graphic style is a cool change, and they did a great job of making all the classes distinctive. You can tell at a glance what you’re up against, both from the model and the way they move.

A nice touch is all the little stats they give you. When you die and are waiting to respawn, you get a little stat box that tells you how well you did with that life. For example, it might say: “On the bright side, that’s the most kills (5) you’ve gotten as a Spy.” It also keeps track of who kills who repeatedly, so you might get a message saying “You are dominating JoeBlow92!” Meanwhile, JoeBlow92 gets a message saying “You have a new nemesis: TanRu!” and sees you on the kill cam.

All in all, really well done and I’m looking forward to playing a lot more.

I didn’t spend too much time on Portal, but what I played I enjoyed. It’s a really weird way of thinking and it’s interesting to feel your brain getting used to it. The computer voice that guides you along makes a lot of really funny comments along the way. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, see the Portal “orientation movie” below.

Anyhow, great job Valve for putting this together, and congrats to the TF2 team for finally releasing! (See I didn’t even make a Duke Nukem Forever comparison.)

Microsoft Un-Reneges On Free Repair for Defective 360s

Yes I am a lazy blogger lately. But my sense of honor compelled me to note that Microsoft has un-flip-flopped: repairs on launch 360s are once again free, and they are refunding repair fees previously paid. Yesterday my refund check arrived. Now to convert that check directly into a new game…

Pirates of the Burning Sea Flag Preview Tool

One of the cool features of the forthcoming MMORPG Pirates of the Burning Sea is the ability for players to create custom flags and sails to fly from their ships. Although the game is not yet available (except in closed beta), the flag sumbission and approval process is already in place. There’s a pretty active community around the game, and an active flag-creation sub-community full of great people.

I’ve been working on a set of personal flags for the game and getting lots of helpful advice from the forums. This past week I created a Flag Preview Tool that takes flags in from the forums and shows you what it will (sort of) look like flying from your ship.

I thought it was going to be pretty easy, but it was actually pretty complicated due to the combination of the waving method (load flag, duplicate, mask each dupe differently, rotate each duplicate) (thank you jbum.com) and the way Flash handles loadMovie and duplicateMovie. Anyhow, I got it going. Now I’m working on a couple enhancements like showing the flag raising and lowering, and flipping the flag so you can see what the reverse side will look like.

Microsoft Reneges On Free Repair for Defective 360s

Well, it finally happened: my launch-day Xbox 360 bit the dust last week. One second I was infiltrating Port Royal as the infamous Jack Sparrow, the next, frozen screen. I rebooted and there were the three flashing red lights. Damn.

I wasn’t too concerned because I remembered that back in September 2006, they admitted that there were problems with the first generation, and that they were going to repair any pre-January 1, 2006 360s free of charge. I called their support number, punched in my serial number, and then the friendly Microsoft rep delivered the groin kick. They told me it was going to be $140 to repair my box because it was “out of warranty”.

I asked her about the September announcement of free repairs for defective launch boxes, and she said she had never heard of that announcement. Pretty strange, since it was widely covered in the gaming press. Stranger still, I searched the Microsoft site while I was on the phone with her and I couldn’t find anything about it. Apparently Microsoft has removed the announcement from their site, and removed all traces of it. I tried going to the Wayback Machine, but the archive for Xbox.com stops the month before the announcement.

After holding for almost 1/2 hour through terrible hold music (they tried to shake me but I held on) I managed to talk to a supervisor. He admitted that there had been a “limited time offer” for launch owners to get free repairs, but it was now expired blah blah. I yelled and haggled and he agreed to do the repair for “half price”, $69 bucks.

I’m still waiting for the “special box” to send my 360 in. I have a feeling this story is not over…

Write Your Own 360 Games

XNA Game Studio went gold today. This is a set of tools that lets you develop games on your PC and play them (or other people’s games) on your Xbox 360.

The tools are free, but to load the games onto your 360 you need a “Creator’s Club” membership ($99/year).

I’ve been really looking forward to this. I played around with the beta and now the real deal is here.

More details at the XNA Developer Center.

Splinter Cell Double Agent

my Lego Sam FisherThe new Splinter Cell game is out, but to cut to the chase: it’s very disappointing. The graphics are great but I’m sort of past being blown away by graphics at this point. I feel like they changed the camera. It seems much closer to Sam and is sort of hard to see what is going on around him. I wonder if they brought the camera in so tight to compensate for the very detailed graphics; this way they don’t have to show as much on the screen at once.

The training levels are freaking terrible (and stolen from Metal Gear Solid) BUT there’s achievements for both so you pretty much will do them anyhow. At one point my screen was literally filled with Sam’s face as he worked his way along a wire – hello crazy camera!

The game starts out like a James Bond movie – you’re in the middle of a mission. When that mission ends, you get the opening. The new moves are cool – I liked pulling a guy down through a hole in the ice.

The story is a bit disjointed at the beginning. I feel like they had 2 competing stories and smashed them together. I don’t want to give anything away (although everyone probably knows it by now) but it just feels like kind of a hack job.

An interesting thing is that they have now put more emphasis on how you finish a level. You get a big scoreboard at the end that gives you your “stealth score”, with subtractions for alarms raised, bodies found, etc. Also, completing optional goals (“Enter base without alerting enemy”, etc) unlocks new gadgets. So you do have some incentive to stay stealthy.

My biggest complaint about the game is the loading times. They’re insane. Just to get from the training levels back to the training level is sooooooo long. The longest on any 360 game I can think of. That’s to load a menu with 2 options on it. I guess it’s because they have all this video and whatnot going on in the background of the menus – I would definitely rather just have the menu load immediately with a static background.

The last straw was arriving at the secret hideout and having to do another training level. I finally threw up my hands and said “This isn’t fun!” Between that and the camera it just wasn’t as good as Splinter Cell games of yore.
I didn’t get around to trying the multiplayer stuff, so no comment on that.

I returned Splinter Cell, and put my credit toward Gears of War, which I hope doesn’t disappoint!

gp2tanx Dev Log Continued

gp2tanx is now feature-complete. I’m just waiting on some art for the splash screens and victory screens, and then it is ready to go. Well, almost. Everything works great on Windows, but when I compile for the gp2x, it crashes at the pause screen. I’m trying to isolate the problem but I haven’t been able to figure out what is causing it. Very frustrating since I don’t have a way to debug directly on the gp2x; I have to change the code, rebuild, recopy to the gp2x, run it again (and again and again).

Dead Rising (so far)

I was playing Dead Rising last night and I got killed. The screen comes up and says

LOAD

SAVE & QUIT

I didn’t want to play anymore so I picked “SAVE & QUIT”. Well, guess what. That doesn’t mean what it means in other games. In THIS game, that means “save the PROGRESS of my character, but I want to start the whole game over from the beginning”.

I am back at the beginning of the game again, but 4th level instead of first. So dumb. They should give you some kind of warning! Oh well, at least the beginning of the game will be a bit easier since I have more health and stuff.

Other than that complaint and the fact that there is only one save slot(!) I like the game a lot. It’s in my “sweet spot” challenge wise, not too easy and not too hard.

I like how you unravel the story as you go along. Also, i think the “levelling-up” mechanic is very clever: you’re a photojournalist so the way you level up is by taking awesome pictures.

Putting yourself in dangerous situation and then getting the shot gets you a lot of points. There are also “photo ops” that pop up for just a few seconds, like when 2 people are reunited etc, those are TONS of points if you catch them.

You also get points for taking pictures in certain categories, like funny, scary, erotic, etc. I hit a zombie in the face with a pie and took a picture of it, got tons of points for a funny picture – then I killed the zombie and ate the pie!

Dead Rising Demo is Out

I just played the demo for Dead Rising and it is great!

It’s basically “Dawn of the Dead, the game”. As a matter of fact there is a big disclaimer at the beginning that says “This game has nothing to do with George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.” Anyway, there’s hundreds of zombies, and you’re in a mall.

The fun part is that you can pick up just about anything and use it as a weapon. There’s lots of actual weapons lying around for you to find but tons of “improvised” weaponry as well in all the stores. You can throw CDs like shuriken, break open a jewelry case and throw the gems. Pick up a cash register and hurl it. Swing an acoustic (el-kabong!) or electric (spaaang) guitar. You can ride a skateboard or push a shopping cart. I’m sure I only scratched the surface in my time with the demo, but each weapon has a distinct animation and feel to it.

You can also try stuff on in the clothing stores which is pretty funny.

It looks like this game will be a great “sandbox” to just run around killing zombies in, but there is also a story, and the demo indicates that as the game progresses you will be unravelling the mystery behind the zombies.

Definitely getting this when it comes out next week. Braaaaains.

August 4, 2006 | Posted in: Video Games | Comments Closed

gp2tanx dev log continued

gp2tanxBack from vacation (lots more on that soon) and did a little work on the game today.

Got the wind working, and explosions cause damage now. Cleaned up the display a little. I’m trying to get through it without looking at any other Scorched Earth clones (which is kind of stupid since it’s already a clone anyhow, but whatever).

Now there’s lots of non-fun stuff left like menus to start and pause the game, detecting end-of-game state, and so on. Probably lots of stuff I haven’t thought of yet too.

I hope to press on to the bitter end though, so I have a finished game when I am done.