Mid-2012 Recap

Hello again!

It’s been a lazy month or so (alright then… five weeks) since my last post, and so much has happened in-between… let’s get recapping!

The maelstrom of E3 hit and… well, colour me uninspired. Halo 4‘s showing, whilst pretty, ensured that I would no longer venture into the world that Bungie built – they’ve got interesting plans for the multiplayer aspects, to be sure, with ongoing story-driven arcs and oodles of stats. But I struggled to (or am struggling to) reconcile Reach‘s stats, so that’s actually a turn-off for me… and why was Cortana showing up in Master Chief’s HUD? Criterion’s new Need For Speed game looks to have all the addictive qualities of Burnout Paradise, but… I’ve already got Burnout Paradise. I’m not sure I need another one.

The biggest turn-off from E3, however, was the reaction of the crowds to the torture porn demonstrations of titles like the Tomb Raider reboot (and the subsequent she’s-being-raped-so-you-care-about-her idiocy) and The Last of Us. Justifiable context or not, the shotgun-to-the-face closing of the Sony press conference demo was one of the more disgusting public displays by anyone in this industry I care about… and the fact that I had to explain to my nephew why I thought it was wrong gives me reason to think that widespread sensory dulling continues unabated.

There were some lighter moments, too: Michael Pachter’s appearance on Giant Bomb’s podcast covering Day Zero of E3 had some brilliant moments, including analysis on Nintendo’s stock valuation, the admission of Assassin’s Creed overload, and Pachter’s contrary view that attempts to balance the Watch Dogs opinion. But the relatively poor showing of Nintendo, combined with ongoing concerns of asset generation cost (and the aforementioned torture porn response) left me feeling a bit despondent… though this apology from Kotaku for E3 (including the great line “Bad Art is not antimatter”, followed by Tycho’s “more art is always the answer”) leaves me with some hope.

Luckily, I’ve managed to stop worrying about the future of gaming by playing heaps of games. My dedication to my WipEout HD and F-Zero GX spreadsheets (as previously documented) lasted only a week or two – 8.18% and 5.06%, respectively – before getting replaced by a massive Skyward Sword kick. Playing through the most recent Zelda on Hero Mode proved to be tricky early on (no hearts are spawned, and you suffer double damage) until I managed to find the first Heart Medal to redress the balance. I pushed through to the penultimate battle sequence, but there’s the small matter of earning the Hylian Shield that is stopping me from going any farther – and that shield is only obtainable via an eight-battle boss rush challenge, which is something I’m finding too daunting to attempt. I’ll wait until I grow a pair before returning to finish Hero Mode, then duck back for my final play through that glorious game.

A few weeks back I decided to buy a new Xbox 360 – my Premium launch model and my spare Arcade are still going strong (having felt the tender hands of Microsoft once each), but I wanted to get a new 360S (and, more importantly, a new hard drive) before making any significant new game purchases. It turned out that it was only about $10 more expensive to buy a 250GB Kinect bundle than an unbundled 250GB model, so I grabbed that… and the pack-in games that came with it. A bit of furniture shuffling inside the Moobaarn produced a more Kinect-friendly space, and my short-lived assault on Kinect Adventures netted me about half the Achievements trapped therein before I turned my back on it, adamant that I would return when I could coerce someone into playing co-op with me.

The other pack-in “bonus” was Carnival Games, whose high TA-ratio – 2.92 overall – had me worried that it would be a List lingerer. But after a week of jumping, twisting, and posing, I managed to fool the Kinect sensor enough of the time that it was completed… but it’s far from an easy game, with inconsistent movement responses and emphasis on luck, rather than skill. Perseverance pays off, however.

More pestering from Lita ensured that I started playing Assassin’s Creed II on my our TA-Birthday, and the Achievements flowed thick and fast. The main game was wrapped up in about four days, with the terrible DLC falling thereafter… and I’ve currently got a support ticket with Ubisoft to see whether I’ll ever be able to obtain the last 0.79% of the game that is trapped on their Uplay servers.

The last game I’ve been playing recently is Child of Eden. I managed to get a couple of Achievements in that, too (after the best part of a year’s break), and I’m actually starting to get a feel for the game now. Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought it was… first impressions, eh?

But I only really started tackling Child of Eden again as a reaction to my 2012 Gaming Resolutions, which are worth addressing since we’re at the halfway point. So… how am I faring?

In 2012, I resolved…

…to leave 2011 with The List pared back to… 64. Yep, the same target as two years ago. Soft, but – on previous efforts – pretty unlikely.

The List currently sits at 71. Might be tough going from here…

…to (still) keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. 50% is fine, since it means that some of the back catalogue is getting wrapped up.

So far, so good: so far I’ve bought thirteen new games, eight of which have already been completed. There’s only a couple of must-buys on the horizon (Fez, Jet Set Radio, and Dyad), so I reckon I’ll manage alright with this one.

…to knock Perfect Dark Zero, Skyward Sword, Uncharted 2, and Halo: Anniversary off The List.

Halo: Anniversary has already been done, and significant work has been done on Skyward Sword and Uncharted 2. PDZ, on the other hand…

…to beat Luxor 2‘s Normal skill level.

Who said what now?

…to make some inroads on both WipEout HD and F-Zero GX. Racing ahoy!

Well, I’ve made some pretty spreadsheets… and I started playing WipEout properly… that counts, right?

…to clear up some of the lingering 360 titles… fo’ real this time. Ninety-Nine Nights, Rez, Shadow Complex.

I fired up Shadow Complex once. Ummm… I had a few boozy levels of Rez, too…

…to break at least 500 GS in Child of Eden.

Woohoo! I’m up to 380!

…to play something new; something outside the stuff I know I like. To take a risk!

I’m going to claim this one as “done” on the basis of Flower, Journey, and the Kinect rubbish.

So, there you go. In short, I’m hanging on my the skin of my teeth.

Less typing, more playing, methinks ;)

More Things I Love

You know what I really love?

A good list.

A list can create order from chaos; a list can turn a ramshackle collection of targets into a sensible to-do walkthrough.

But do you know what I love more?

A thorough spreadsheet.

The more cells the better: big grids with spaces for me to put a completionist tick (or, rather, a “1”) when their goal – or micro-goal – has been reached. And if there’s cells for “1”s, there’s the opportunity to thrown in an =SUM and create a satisfying completion percentage.

Phwoar. Just typing that out has got me a little flustered with excitement. Yep, that’s how much I love me a spreadsheet.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers (yeah, right, like I’ve got any of those) that The List is spreadsheet-based. I track all manner of dates and statistics for my tiny collection; other pages in that particular file cover specific games, my favourite being the nice permutations behind the Prince of Persia combo list. And then there’s my 360 gamerscore spreadsheet and PSN Trophy data munging, both fantastic little tools that I love tinkering with. But more recent spreadsheets have covered my Halo: Reach commendations, Bastion dialogue lines, and TimeSplitters 2 awards; my tracking of the Uncharted sequels multiplayer medals is, naturally, bordering on the obsessive (especially given Drake’s Deception‘s depth of ranked awards).

But, with my interest in Uncharted 2‘s multiplayer waning a little (due, in no small part, to flaky matchmaking often refusing to make me a match), I turned back to my Resolutions for inspiration (again). And re-reading the dot-point featuring my two bugbear racers – WipEout HD and F-Zero GX – caused me to reflect: the former’s requirements for completion are pretty well defined by the game’s associated Trophies, but what about the latter?

F-Zero GX is well known for its insane difficulty, and I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll never be able to cross it off The List. But my Resolution was to make inroads into the game, not complete it… so I started gathering all my completion requirements, with the aim of having something to measure “inroads” against. Unlocking all the races and characters is a given; the races are easy enough with a custom vehicle, but unlocking all the characters requires completion of the stupidly difficult Story Mode (which I’ve not even managed to half-complete, even on the easiest skill level). And then there’s all the character interview questions and staff ghosts in Time Trials…

And so a spreadsheet was born.

My “Racers” spreadsheet has three pages of WipEout HD stats (Trophies, Races on all three difficulties, and multiplayer Badges), as well as five pages of F-Zero GX stats: Ghosts, Story, Parts, Interviews, and a collective Summary. And after switching Pilot Assist off on WipEout and starting again, I’ve got 7.78% of my Gold Medals; after starting a new game of GX from scratch, I can happily report that I’ve picked up a grand total of 16 of the identified 810 target points of the game.

That’s the easiest 1.98%.

But I’m still a little hazy as to what my Resolution’s “inroads” could be. For WipEout, I’m thinking that Gold-medalling all races on the easiest difficulty – or a straight 33.3% on my spreadsheet – would be a pretty reasonable target; but GX? A similar target would imply that I’m able to win Master difficulty Grand Prix with stock vehicles… and, on the basis of my efforts in the last couple of days, I’m so far from that level of skill that it’s not funny.

So consider that Resolution… unresolved.

But damn that’s a bloody attractive spreadsheet that’s taunting me…


It’s been a pretty grim start to the gaming New Year, all up. I spent a couple of days sick in bed (yes – too sick to hold a DS up), and 343 Industries can’t seem to keep their Custom Challenges running smoothly anymore, thus butchering my cRedit earning potential (but not before I catapulted myself to Mythic rank). Not to mention the fact that I’ve finally gotten into the groove of belatedly writing on my other blog… resulting in the mojo drifting a little.

Yes, I fired up Halo: Anniversary to try and claw at some Achievements… but after an hour, I felt like I was bashing my head against a brick wall. I tried memorising more of my final Challenge Room in Bionic Commando: Rearmed, but I think my muscle memory is full about ten seconds into the room. Finally – surprisingly – I found something to enthuse about: WipEout HD.

Now, let’s get one thing quite clear: I’m absolutely rubbish at WipEout HD. I’ve struggled to complete the first four grids of the Campaign on Novice, and that’s with the edge-autosteering Pilot Assist on… because if I turn Pilot Assist off, I spend most of the race rubbing walls until I explode. And that’s no way to earn loyalty points.

I find WipEout HD to be quite… ummm… loose in the control department; it’s certainly no Ridge Racer 6 (with its solid and dependable drift mechanic), and nor is it taut like F-Zero GX (or, at least, like many of the craft within GX). But I knew that was the case before I “purchased” it (as part of the “Wefucked uplcome Back” package following last year’s PSN debacle) – I knew that it would be a List-lingerer, that it would take some serious dedication. And that’s where I find myself now, at the foot of a mighty mountain to climb…

…but I’ve just found this fantastic Beginner Basics video – and I’ve already picked out some control tweaks to perform. But, most importantly, I’ve just spied the message 21:40 into the video… and I’m now switching off Pilot Assist. I’ll suffer, to be sure, but I have to learn sometime.

Buggered if I know how I managed to get 18% of the Trophies with Pilot Assist on, though ;)

My 2012 Gaming Resolutions

So… Gaming Resolutions, eh? These are rapidly becoming a bit of a joke with me.

Every year I present a collection of commitments, any of which in isolation look completely manageable, and every year I fail to satisfy those commitments. Every year, I plan to pare The List down, and every year it is merely whittled.

And, more to the point, every year I feel myself drifting further away from the mainstream gamer. As I write this, I’m listening to Giant Bomb’s 2011 Deliberations, and I’ve played precisely zero of their Top Ten. True, I want to play Saints Row: The Third, Bastion, and Portal 2, and they’ll undoubtedly be picked up next year, but still… none of them.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at last year’s Resolutions…

…to leave 2011 with The List pared back to 50. No shit. I’ve just pulled that number out of my arse, and I’m sticking to it.

Verdict: Fail. The List currently sits at 67. So that’s actually a Big Fail.

…to keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. Again. Last year’s goal of 50% was completely reasonable, yet I missed it. Try harder!

Verdict: Thirteen new games appeared this year; seven of those were off The List by year’s end. Success!

…to make an impact on every platform. Again. But do it this time!

Verdict: Fail fail faility fail. The only platforms that were touched were the Wii (and I only just scraped that in), 360, PS3, and DS. Sounds like a comprehensive FAIL.

…to clear up some of the doubles. This will feed in nicely to the pruning of The List indicated above; after all, I’ve got two copies of No More Heroes 2. Three copies of Jet Set Radio! Two copies of Ikaruga… ummm, let’s not fret about that one too much ;)

Verdict: Gimme an “F”. Gimme an “A”. Gimme an “I”. Gimme an “L”. What does it spell? petee.

…to clear up some of the lingering 360 titles. There’s a bunch of games in which I’ve acquired all the Achievements, but haven’t crossed off The List. Ninety-Nine Nights needs a bit of OCD collection lovin’, Rez needs some 100% levels. Let’s get some of those wrapped up, yeah?

Verdict: What starts with “F”, and sounds like “tail”? That’s right – me.

Clearly, 2011 was outright shithouse in terms of Resolution adherence. So what do I do – choose more resolutions that look attainable, then dismally fail yet again? Or do I pare down expectations somewhat?

Let’s find out…

In 2012, I resolve…

  • …to leave 2012 with The List pared back to… 64. Yep, the same target as two years ago. Soft, but – on previous efforts – pretty unlikely.
  • …to (still) keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. 50% is fine, since it means that some of the back catalogue is getting wrapped up.
  • …to knock Perfect Dark Zero, Skyward Sword, Uncharted 2, and Halo: Anniversary off The List.
  • …to beat Luxor 2‘s Normal skill level.
  • …to make some inroads on both WipEout HD and F-Zero GX. Racing ahoy!
  • …to clear up some of the lingering 360 titles… fo’ real this time. Ninety-Nine Nights, Rez, Shadow Complex.
  • …to break at least 500 GS in Child of Eden.
  • …to play something new; something outside the stuff I know I like. To take a risk!

So there you have it – my targets for the next year. Fewer broad sweeping statements, and more focus on the current generations (because there’s a technological change a-comin’, kids).

And, cut’n’pasting a line from previous years… What are your Gaming Resolutions for 2012?

Je Retourne (2011 Edition)

Ummm… hello again.

It’s with my tail firmly wedged between my legs that I return to the game-blogging world; after another massive Fringe (131 “official” shows, another handful of impromptu gigs, and nowhere near enough writing done… I’ve still got 93 shows left to write about!), there was a long period where I couldn’t face the keyboard at all. Which is proving to be a bit of a problem with work, but that’s another story.

That’s not to say that I’ve forgotten about gaming; quite the opposite. In recent years I had experienced a kind of post-Fringe malaise, a separation-anxiety after the hyper-social frivolities of my ultra-arty-month; but that didn’t really seem to be the case this year, and I hurled myself back into gaming with a vengeance. This seemed to be fuelled by the games that were released during my self-enforced gaming exile: Double Fine‘s Stacking was the first cab off the rank, followed closely by Beyond Good & Evil HD.

Double Fine games are an easy sell to me; I love Tim Schafer‘s work. Costume Quest proved that, even with his role reduced to that of an overseeing producer, the rest of the company has more than enough talent to pump out funny and focused games. Stacking proved to be a perfect sibling for Costume Quest – a short, punchy game with a distinct sense of individuality and style, backed up with an elegant sense of humour. A short late-night taster of the game turned into a six-hour session, experimenting with all the different dolls and their special abilities (the flatulent efforts managing to bring an immature smile to my face, whilst managing to somehow remain charming). It didn’t take long to explore the breadth of the game, but there was a short wait until the Lost Hobo King DLC was released in early April, and then it was crossed off The List.

The second of the March releases was Beyond Good & Evil HD. Despite having heard many raves about this game, I knew next to nothing about it – but its age was apparent from the somewhat clumsy opening. It’s a great game, though, and I managed to hammer through a pair of playthroughs in quick time before crossing that one off The List too.

So – with two new purchases quickly wrapped up, I cast my mind back to my Gaming Resolutions for 2011, and decided to tackle a game from one of the previous generations; the Chosen One was Deus Ex: Invisible War (hereafter more conveniently referred to as DX2) on the original Xbox. I adore the original Deus Ex for its wide scope and political intrigue, coupled with a solid FPS with RPG aspects and myriad possibilities. And I recall being ultra-keen on this game when I first saw the leaked opening FMV back in early 2004. And I also remember the disappointment when I first played the game, blasting through it on the easiest difficulty setting in a couple of days… before turning my back on it. A neutered ammo system, the removal of the RPG elements, and an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobic simplification all combined to leave a distasteful memory.

Hence, I returned to the game with trepidation, wary of the experience my memories recalled. And first (re-)impressions were not good; time has not been good to DX2‘s visuals, with dim and grimy textures on the tiny maps and an appalling frame-rate. But, pushing on through a playthrough on Normal (the second of four difficulty levels), I was soon immersed in a storyline that – whilst failing to even approach the sophistication of the original – was still quite satisfying. Tinkering around with biomods encouraged me to tackle levels in a creative manner, yielding enjoyable solutions where my first playthrough had been brute-force and tedious. Indeed, I found myself having fun with this much-maligned game.

I eventually reached the final “level” – a return to the opening location of the first game, where decisions can be made to yield any of the game’s four endings. But the visuals had taken their toll, and I needed a high-definition break… and, wandering through JB Hifi to find a present for my nephew’s birthday, I discovered the perfect antidote: Just Cause 2, which had languished on my “To Buy” List since its release nearly a year ago. A 20%-off sale, a sticker-price on a brand new copy for less than AU$40… sold.

At first, I was a bit perturbed by some of the voice work in Just Cause 2 – Sheldon’s voice actor is the same guy who played the porcine Pey’j in Beyond Good & Evil. Hearing them (almost) back-to-back in two very different character roles was… well, odd. But everything I wrote about the first Just Cause still holds true in the sequel – there’s a massive brand-new open world (the gorgeous island paradise of Panau) to explore, but it’s still filled with cookie-cutter missions that became almost mechanically rote to conquer. The sequel is significantly more polished than the original (aside from some gameplay tweaks that I feel are detrimental), but there’s one are in which it absolutely shines: the numbers game.

I’ve said before that I love a good grind, and Just Cause 2 offers the opportunity to grind oneself raw. 368 369 smaller missions, 75 races, over 5000 (yes – five thousand) collectibles & destructibles, each and every one of them responsible for a little OCD endorphin rush… this is a game that takes ages to complete to satisfaction, even if it’s impossible to 100%. And, sure enough, 120 hours on my Casual playthrough yielded a maximum of 99.95%; my Hardcore playthrough, a more efficient 100 hours, also yielded a 99.95% final statistic – and a plethora of bugs, which I’ll whinge about at a later stage.

I’ve also indulged in a little twin stick shooting – Geometry Wars, Geometry Wars^2, a little bit of Robotron, and a splash of Mutant Storm Reloaded. And I’m still shit at all of them. I returned and finished off my Normal playthrough of DX2 – all four five endings, tiptoeing around the final level before letting loose with barely controlled use of the rocket launcher. There’s another two playthroughs required on that one, though – but, to be honest, I really enjoyed the time I spent with this sequel. It revived interest in the upcoming Deus Ex: Human Revolution, though dissenting opinions about the most recent build of that have dampened my enthusiasm somewhat.

You might have noticed that there was a minor disturbance in the gaming world a few months back when Sony’s PSN account databases were compromised. Now, I’ve frequently been critical of PSN in the past, and I remember heaving a sigh of relief when I realised I’d never entered my credit card details into the system. But the leaked (alleged) details about the naïveté of PSN’s infrastructure certainly gave reason to roll one’s eyes in disgust; plain text passwords, really? Sure, even I’ve done that before – but that was my first project out of Uni (and it certainly wasn’t exposed to the Internet), and I soon learnt pretty quickly why it’s a ferociously dumb idea.

But Sony’s “Welcome Back” package, while a blatant attempt to placate the (rightfully) angry public, was certainly welcome to me – despite my wariness of free games. Still, I picked up inFAMOUS and the (perennially List-bound) WipEout HD, and managed to knock out a quick Platinum trophy on the former. It’s fair to say, now, that the PS3 is beginning to earn its keep in The Moobaarn – the grand total of AU$75 I’ve spent on the system and games so far has just broken into positive value-for-money territory.

The final game I’ll mention in this little roundup of the last five(!) months is a game that both inspired great excitement as well as great trepidation: Child of Eden. I’ve ham-fistedly tried to explain how much I love Rez, but I cannot honestly say that I ever wished for a sequel, or even more content; Rez (and especially Rez HD) is perfect in just about every way. But Miz reckons that Child of Eden is a spiritual successor to Rez, so (despite its release in the middle of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival) it was a day-one purchase.

But, after several attempts to get into the groove, I’m really not feeling it at the moment.

Maybe it’s the twee overtones of the (incredibly polished) production. Maybe it’s the lack of coherency of the visuals. Maybe it’s the lack of the player avatar onscreen (understandably necessary because of the Kinect integration, but its absence is noticeable for those of use wielding traditional controllers). Maybe it’s the fact that the controls don’t feel as familiar to me as I’d like. Maybe it’s the lack of connection with the music; there’s nothing as immediately uplifting as Rez‘s Area 1 tune (Buggie Running Beeps) or Area 4’s pulse-thumping Rock Is Sponge. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m finding it a little bit difficult.

But I remember that Rez took a while for me to “learn”, too – I certainly recall struggling to finish Area 4 at all, and needing oodles of practise before finally conquering Area 5 – both of which I can breeze through now after a night out at the pub. But the difference is that I was immediately drawn into the world of Rez; I wanted to be there. It feels like Child of Eden is holding me at arms length – a cold pat on the shoulder, when what I really want is a warm hug. Still, I’ll persevere – after all, that’s my lot in life – and maybe I’ll learn to love it… I certainly hope I’ll learn to love it.

And, after five months away, that pretty much brings us up to date. Sorry about this mish-mash of text, but there were words on my fingertips that needed to get out – hopefully there’ll be a few more coherent pieces coming soon. In the meantime, though, there’s more DX2, and more Child of Eden