Thursday, September 25, 2008

Warhammer Online's War on Gold Spammers

Apparently Mark Jacobs isn't too fond of gold spammers.

I hated seeing their messages when I played WoW or any other MMO and I’ve been waiting for the day that WAR launched so I could have the absolute pleasure of instituting policies to make their lives more difficult so we could drive them out of WAR. Since WAR launched we have been banning these jerks like crazy. As of Saturday Night, we had banned about 400 of them.
I can attest to having seen broadcast messages about "Spammername has been found guilty of heresy against Sigmar and has been sentenced to execution along with many cohorts" since launch. They really seem gung ho about going after gold spammers. Which is good, because the /ignore function doesn't seem to work at the moment.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zero Punctuation Reviews - XBLA Double Bill

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Buy RA3, get a bear hat in Warhammer Online

Pretty clever cross promotion here... if you buy Red Alert 3, you'll get a promo code that will give your Warhammer Characters a fuzzy soviet hat with a red star on the front that turns you into a bear when you use it.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Zero Punctuation Reviews: Spore

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Zero Punctuation Reviews - Too Human

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Review: Spore

Gah, finally. The last time a game was this hyped was Daikatana. But at least this game doesn't explode into a million fiery bits of suck.

Spore, as I'm sure you know, is a game that concerns the evolution of an organism you create, nurture and guide from microscopic to interstellar life. It's been highly anticipated ever since its sneak peeks at various E3s and of course the release of its "creature creator."

The graphics are decent. They're nothing cutting edge but a certain amount of simplicity had to be kept to facilitate the fluid and organic nature of reshaping custom polygons in real time for your and all the other lifeforms.

The sound does a good job and is well produced. While I don't expect anybody will be buying up copies of "Spore: the soundtrack" like some other games have in the past, it functions well for its purpose.

Honestly I was expecting a level of complexity, or perhaps autonomy, that was not there. Most of the game involves you ordering your organism around personally, for every single little action (or multiples of them in later stages). As far as the game dynamic goes, I was somewhat reminded of another old Maxis title, SimLife... only this one is infinitely less complicated and you only concern yourself with one organism.

It's like SimLife and Black and White got together and had a baby, which grew up and decided that science (SimLife's area) and theology (Black and White's bag) was not for it, it went to Art School and then decided to become a kindergarten teacher.

And that's one of my two big gripes about Spore.. it's overly simplified. Never has designing life from the ground up been so simple. The interface is simple. Playing is simple. Everything is simple, fast, easy, straightforward, and really takes little planning. The game just needs somebody to click stuff. It would make a good game to play with a kid aged 8 to 11 or so.

My other big gripe is this game is big on the "GOTCHA!" factor. For a game that touts your ability to custom-build your organism just the way you want it, there's too much black-box future-altering stuff going on that you don't know about until its too late. For instance, you want an omnivore, you better very, very carefully count how many plants versus animals you eat, because the game keeps track (but doesn't tell you) until you are done with that phase, at which it tells you that you won't be allowed access to any of the omnivore mouths in the next phase because you ate too many of one and not enough of the other and now your organism is inextricably exclusive in its diet.

Woody, over at also brought up a couple salient points -

First, I'm not okay with the idea that I can only install the game 3 times. You guys know how often I have computer problems and/or upgrade. 3 installs will likely last me all of a year and a half. Then I have to start calling in to explain what I need additional activations. But how long is phone supported activation going to last? What happens when it dries up? Basically, I have to rebuy the game. Thanks EA.

Second, for all intents and purposes it is a single player game. You should never be required to have internet access to play a single player game. Sure there is player generated content to be had online, but if you're like me you'll look at it but probably never download it. The idea is that players will have to authenticate their game online "the first time" and then re-authenticate their game when they "use online features, download new content of a patch for their game". I don't care if this means I won't need the disc in my computer to play the game. I'm okay with tossing in a game disk if it means not putting computer sniffing spyware on my machine.

All in all I found the game could not maintain my interest really, DRM concerns even aside.

Overhyped and online components kind of unnecessary, extremely simplistic and shallow gameplay... all in all it's not a game I'd spend any more time on other than what I've already played to review it. If I had a young child I was trying to introduce to PC Gaming, it would be one of my first picks, however.

Verdict: C- (Minus for the DRM shenannigans. You'd have thought they'd have learned from what Bioshock went through).

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Zero Punctuation Reviews: EVE Online

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Review: Bionic Commando Rearmed

Rewind time back 20 years. It's 1988 and Bush and Dukakis are slugging it out for the white house. It is still appropriate, even masculine, for a man to wear hot pink. Thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika are zinging around in the Soviet Union, which still shows no sign of its later collapse. And most importantly to a kid of the 90s, the NES still dominates the video game market, and one of the best titles for the console is that year's Bionic Commando by Capcom.

And now it's back.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is NES Bionic Commando, ported to modern hardware (both console and PC, thankfully). In fact, 90% of the game is a level-for-level, tile-for-tile translation of the old classic, updated, enhanced and re-envisoned. If you were a kid in 88 and you liked the original, you will find it hard not to like this one. But there are some new things.. new weapons, new items and a super-difficult new final-final level. So even if you could play through NES BC in one sitting of a couple hours (I could), this one will still throw you some new pitches.

Graphics -
No sprites here, lads. And you better have a card that supports shader model 3. That seems a little odd, considering the 8-bit roots of the game, but that's the requirement. It's still 2-D platformer in that your character moves and fights entirely in two dimensions, but all the levels use 3 dimensional rendering and backdrops that provide depth and atmosphere. All-in-all it does an excellent job of taking a game from 20 years ago and updating it, but really did it NEED to require Shader Model 3? If not for that one requirement, I'd think it would run on my laptop... but the lappy only goes up to SM2.

Sound -
They did a real bang-up job here. The auditory experience of BCR is top notch, blending both vintage NES saw-wave and block-wave sound effects with more contemporary gunshots, explosions, voices and other effects. And the soundtrack! Oh the soundtrack! Somebody on their sound engineer/composer payroll needs a big raise, because that somebody is a damned genius. Again it takes the old NES's soundtrack and remasters it with modern instruments and affectations, and even manages to even use some of the old waveform instruments seamlessly, and it all sounds damn good. Nostalgic overdrive kicked in right from the start, and didn't let up until the end of the final credits.

Gameplay -
For the benefit of the urchins and philistines unfamiliar with the original, I'll give a brief overview here... BCR is a sideview 2-D platforming game in which you play a soldier who has been enhanced by a bionic grappling arm, fighting behind enemy lines to rescue a heroic comrade and save the world from an imperial regime bent on world domination. Instead of jumping, you must grapple and sometimes swing from place to place. There are a variety of types of enemies, a level of every setting from factory to PoW camp to alpine stronghold to flying superfortress, bosses that require clever use of game mechanics to defeat, a wide selection of weapons and support items, and a delightfully cheesy storyline straight out of a comic book with dialog that very often turns humorously tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, poking fun at itself and its original incarnation ("Why do they call this 'Health Recovery Pills?' It looks like a bottle of liquid! Get the heck out of here, you nerd!")

Now, for those familiar with the source material, there's also plenty new for you. What you remember as the last level is now only the second to last level, as the Albatross has been turned into an entire flying fortress instead of just a boss encounter. Also, the original version's final "get this single-chance shot off right the first time or die immediately" helicopter encounter with Master-D (here shortened to just "Leader") has been turned into a proper boss battle. There are also dozens of "challenge rooms" which time your completion of a set of obstacles that require expert use of the bionic arm to traverse.

The Aegia (now Nvidia) Physx engine is also put to good use here for all the swinging, shooting, particle and flying debris physics. They got the controls mostly right (the only thing that felt different was the dynamic of multiple swinging over spikes, which didn't feel exactly right but you have to grant some leeway for that).

Conclusion -
The whole thing is a great big digital valentine to one of the best games of the 80s, and of course it is also meant to wet our whistles for the upcoming release of the Bionic Commando full 3d remake. It does everything extremely well, with only a few nagging grumbles on my part (the SM3 requirement, and maybe the final level could have been a bit less unforgiving of error). It is the precisely right amount of homage and innovation, with what deviations from past design they made were great improvements. And it's even cheap, to boot.

Verdict: A. And that's the word from Bandit camp.

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