One more thing about Tomb Raider.

(Originally posted on my personal blog)

Just to extend the metaphor even further, I went back to Tomb Raider: Legend right after the last post.  It’s kind of similar to when I got back together with my ex-girlfriend Carrie after she cheated on me to end our first time together.  Except with less Pachouli and more hanging from wall cracks.

Anyway, I downloaded a trainer to give myself infinite health packs and continued on my journey into Lara Croft’s past — I’ll be damned if I was going to let anonymous biker thugs derail me from a game with an 80-plus score on GameRankings.

Sure enough, the game got pretty awesome again soon after the Kazakhstan Experiment.  After finishing that level, I proceeded to a level set in England, complete with a brilliant Max Payne 2-style level-within-a-level.

And then… crates.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that I loved Portal.  I don’t think it was the greatest game ever, or even the greatest game of 2007, but it was an extremely well-designed game.  I don’t think that it ushered in a new era of storytelling, even though GLaDOS’s dialogue was brilliant.

But I did like the Companion Cube sequences.  I don’t really “get” the cult that’s sprung up around it, but it’s not because I think I’m above that kind of iconography worship.  After all, I’m the guy who wore ankh necklaces for years because I loved the Ultima series so much.

No, the Cube was a cool concept, and made for a fun twist on the latter levels.

What does this have to do with Tomb Raider: Legend, you ask?

Not quite as marketable, I admit.

Not quite as marketable, I admit.

BEHOLD!

The light yet surprisingly durable twin crates!

Seriously.  You use this guy and his buddy, like, ten times as long as you use the Weighted Companion Cube.  And the puzzles are just as interesting as the ones in Portal.

This leads me to wonder a lot of things.  Like, did the Portal team play the England sequence in Tomb Raider: Legend before designing the Companion Cube levels?  Yes, they have a plausible story for where the Cube idea came from, but jeez.  The level designer at Crystal Dynamics who worked on the England level must die a little inside every time someone orders a pair of the Weighted Companion Cube fuzzy dice online.

So, yeah.  That’s probably all I’ll have to say about Tomb Raider for quite a while, seeing as how it’s now the only game I’ve ever blogged about twice.  How weird is that.  But in conclusion, yay, Tomb Raider: Legend.  And while we’re at it, yay, Portal.

Play to your strengths.

(Originally posted on my personal blog)

Look, Tomb Raider.  I loved you back in the ’90′s.  You and I had some great times together.  When I first saw that T-rex in the jungle?  That was a magic moment.

And sure, you and I had fallen out of touch over the years.  Honestly, who wouldn’t?  From what I had heard and seen, you had been in a rut for years.

But just the other day, I thought I’d give you a call and see what you were up to.

Tomb Raider: Underworld

And for a while, you were like a breath of fresh air.  Where had you been for the last few years?

Tomb Raider: Underworld took up quite a bit of my time over the last week or so.  It was full of fun puzzles, and frozen zombies, and surprisingly well-written and well-acted dialogue.  Even the lovely Virginia noticed how well-crafted everything was.

But like any relationship with an old fling, it wasn’t meant to last.

In the last level, I encountered a rather irritating bug, and was unable to proceed to the end of the game.  So Underworld joined the long list of games that I haven’t been able to finish lately.  Ah, well.

It was only after I’d played about halfway through the game that I realized I was missing out on some story and character elements.  A quick Wikipedia search confirmed that Tomb Raider: Legend should have been first on my list.

So I picked up Legend and took it out for a spin.  And hey, it was fun, too!  I was a little put off by the fact that half the game involved shooting guys and moving around office buildings instead of raiding tombs, but hey, you’ve got to mix up the formula a bit.

However, as the great poet Dwayne Johnson once said:  Know your role.

Early on in Legend, there is an extended motorcycle-riding sequence.  There are other enemies on motorcycles trying to shoot at the player, but for the most part, the sequence was easily beaten.  I didn’t think much of it.  After all, the motorcycle sequences in Underworld were pretty fun — because Crystal Dynamics had obviously learned their lesson from the Kazakhstan level.

Look, I'm raiding tombs! Really!

In the Kazakhstan level of Legend, we have an even longer motorcycle sequence.  This time, however, there are SUV’s in addition to the guys on bikes.  And… it’s really hard.  As in, I’ve tried it ten times and haven’t successfully made it through the level.  And I won’t ever make it through the level.  Why?

BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO ENGAGE IN MOTORCYCLE COMBAT.

I WANT TO RAID TOMBS.

AND SOLVE PUZZLES.

It would be easy for me to say that I won’t be playing any more Tomb Raider games any time soon.  But, to be honest, they’ve got their hooks into me.  The games are fun, the puzzles are tuned just well enough that I only had to look on YouTube twice for hints, and the characters are interesting.

Until then, I’ve got what appears to be Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time mixed with ICO coming out in a few days.  That ought to tide me over for a while.

By the way, sorry for the lack of updates to this blog lately.  I’ve been working on another project that’s been taking up most of my time.  And playing way too much of this.

Mutantus ex machina, foiled.

(Originally posted on my personal blog)

Note to my friends at Bethesda Softworks:

(And before I go any further, let me say that I am one of millions who have really enjoyed both Fallout 3 and its fraternal twin, Oblivion.)

(Oh, and this might be considered a minor spoiler for the ending of Fallout 3. So proceed with caution.)

Continue reading Mutantus ex machina, foiled.

Tell, don't show.

(Originally posted on my personal blog)

It’s a little ridiculous that I’ve been writing on this blog for a few weeks now, but I haven’t really mentioned video games that much at all.  Maybe it’s because with the election in eight days, my thoughts are elsewhere.

However, I’ve been playing a lot of games lately.  I just haven’t been writing about them.

Dead Space is number one on my list at the moment.  I’m only about two hours or so into the game, but it’s shaping up to be pretty incredible.  They really get the atmosphere right, from the music cues whenever enemies appear to the in-game advertising for fictional products.

I do wonder what the focus group and playtesting data must have shown for the game, however.  Within the first few minutes, you’re told by no less than three different sources about OMG STRATEGIC DISMEMBERMENT.  It is a pretty fun concept, especially with weapons that do damage in a visible line.  But… I get it.  I need to shoot off limbs.  Thank you.

I don’t remember the exact sequence, but I’m pretty sure the first hint you get is a visual cue.  We’ll call this one…

GOOD:

He wouldnt bother to write aaaargh...

"He wouldn't bother to carve 'aaaargh'..."

This is nice.  The top of the “C” in “cut” is thicker than the bottom, which gives a nice mental image of the guy sticking his hand in a fresh wound to get some blood-ink, and ending up with a lot more than he’d thought he’d get.  I’m not really sure why the author has two right hands, though.  Or why, if he was losing that much blood, he would bother to waste it on a possessive pronoun.  I think “CUT OFF LIMBS” gets the point across.  No need to get flowery.

BETTER:

Right around the time you see the WARNING WRITTEN IN BLOOD, you also receive an audio transmission from another survivor:

“Isaac — be careful.  Shooting them in the body didn’t seem to work.  Go for the limbs.  Dismember them.  That should do the job.”

It’s times like these that I wish we had reached the point in games where you could talk back to the characters.  ”‘Shoot for the limbs’, okay, I get it.  Did you not think I knew what ‘dismember’ meant?  I’m supposed to be controlling an electrical and mechanical engineer.”

As an aside, hats off to EA for naming the main character “Isaac”.  When I chose to name the main character in Space Siege “Seth”, I met with resistance from the dev team.  I thought it was a great name for its “father of humanity” connotations, and because Seth Bullock was a badass.  But I got told that “Seth” was “too nerdy”, among other things.

In the end, it was the right decision — as was changing his last name to “Walker” from “Kendrick”.  That would have been bad.

I just wish we’d had the same inspiration when we named the main character in Unreal II — “John Dalton” isn’t exactly the most memorable appellation I’ve ever heard.

But yeah, “Isaac”.  Good show.  I hope that Matt’s wrong about why they named him “Isaac Clarke”, because that’s a little cheesy.  Still, it’s a good name nonetheless.  Also a good name?  ”Necromorphs”.  Punchy, and it sounds like something we’d actually call aliens.  We had a similar problem on Space Siege with our aliens — I originally called them “The Hunters”, since they were originally from the Beta Canum Venaticorum system… which is Latin for “Hunting Dog”.  Unfortunately, when I realized that Halo and Half-Life had already gotten there first, I had to change it.

Unfortunately, none of the replacements worked that well.  We eventually settled on “Kerak”, which every single actor initially mispronounced in the studio.  I’m still not sure how humanity figured out that they were called the Kerak, since they never communicated, but… I don’t want to go down that road.

Anyway, when I say “Tell, don’t show”, examples like this are what I mean.  The visuals are nice, but the audio communication gets the point across better, without being nearly as on-the-nose.

BEST:

There’s one other audio log that you find around the same time.  If this was the only clue, I think the experience would have been even stronger:

“This is Benson, Tram Engineering.  We think we’ve figured it out.  Smith killed one!  Listen — forget about shooting them in the body.  You gotta cut off the limbs.  Grab a cutter, anything like that.  Cut ‘em apart!”

Perfect.  Much more evocative than “Dismember them.”  And the guy’s plainly terrified, which sells the mood really well.  I’m not wild about “cut” being in there three times in eleven words, but that’s just nitpicking.

So yes.  More awesome audio logs, please.  System Shock 2 can’t be the undisputed king of audio logs forever.  Can it?

Now, back to using my upgraded plasma cutter to shoot off legs.