The video games I spent most of my time with in 2014

Here’s some thoughts on a couple of games I spent a lot of time in 2014. I didnt play a lot of different games during the year, but spent a huge amount of time on certain ones.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

In this day and age when Ubisoft puts out half-baked games full of collectibles without meaning and loses the focus of important gameplay elements in the sea of side missions, it was refreshing to have something like Wolfenstein: The New Order – a supremely put together, clinically executed and entertaining first person shooter.

I dont even dare to load up Far Cry 4 at this point because playing it seems so ardurous. There is too much to do, the scope is too big, it’s all too distracting. I cannot simply concentrate on just playing the main story missions because there are distractions everywhere. That was cool in Assassins Creed 2 and Brotherhood where the side missions and collectables all mattered. As they do in GTA5 which gets the amount right. Mostly it’s all out of control especially in Ubi’s games and Dragon Age Inquisition is at fault too. Collectibles for the sake of collectibles that really are not making the game any more fun. I leave games on the shelf now, because playing them seems like too much work. Its why Call of Duty still works in single player – it’s short, bombastic and simple. All the while being entertaining.

Wolfenstein has four difficulty levels and no multiplayer, no other bullshit that would have taken away from the core development resources of the game. The developers focused on the essentials. The New Order is still the full package. It offers superb first person shooter gameplay, a great story and characters.  Both of which I really did not expect. It sheds all needless extras and half-baked additional gameplay modes like an useless multiplayer mode. It is a game made by a talented and smart, yet small team who deliver an true AAA game with laser-like precision. A truly great game if you like fps games.

I really dug the pace, the feel of the controls, the fact that you had to pick up ammo and health plus the gunplay felt so satisfying. The graphics were superb considering this was a old/current-gen game and the pacing was great. You had those story/hub moments, you had characters whose names you remember and who you cared for. Like J. Cant say that of any of the last few Call of Duty games. There is no fat in this game, just pure gameplay with superb execution. I really loved the introspective monologue that BJ spouted on occasion. BJ’s voice acting was great and the dialogue gave a lot more depth to the character as did the love interest.

I was really disappointed in the reviews that said the monologue felt out of place. I really didnt get that. It was a bold, different stylistical choice, which I really applaud.

This is also a game that makes financial sense in this day and age of “super hit or bust” AAA games. Wolfenstein was made with less than 100 people in four years at a reasonable budget. It screams quality and high-production values, but not at an absolutely insane price where the breakeven is 6+ million units. It’s sensible publishing and game-making.

If only we had more of that.

Destiny

It is nice that a game that my employer works on, turns out to be the most addictive game I’ve played since Modern Warfare. I cannot put Destiny down. I’m almost 13 days deep in terms of game time and that is pretty much with my only Hunter character. Then today I finally succumbed to levelling up my other character, a level 11 Titan to 27.

When I was on my christmas vacation, I had my alarm wake me every day at 10:20am so I could do the bounties twice as they reset at 11am Finnish time, but if you are online when that happens, you can get the bounties, do them, take them back then logoff and come back and get them again from the Bounty dude/Eris and do them again. Pro tip.

Destiny has brought camraderie to our work place. Every day at work starts with discussion about Destiny, the Exotic weapons and every Friday a colleague loads up the game so we can see what Xur is selling.

Sure, I wish there was more content, but no amount of content would be enough really. I’d rather have quality than quantity and I feel I have that in the game. Yeah, the story is weak but I had very low expectations on that anyway. I’m not sure why people expected Uncharted or something out of a game that is mostly a multiplayer, level up, gain XP, kind of experience.

The enviroment design is amazing. Even after 12 days of grinding around Cosmodrome or Venus Patrols, the skyboxes and enviroments have not lost their appeal. They are breath-taking. I dont think the “enviromental story-telling” quite works, you want to learn  more of the world in the game and not via the way too cryptic Grimoire. I like the fact that you have to go to a site or app to read that stuff, but…yeah, what could be different / better in Destiny, that’s a long document I’m writing since I care so much about the game.

Some of the exotic weapons are crap in terms of their killing efficiency, but thats why they are called exotics. The fact that the stats are not great, is not everything. That does not make the weapon crap. Someone will still want to use an weak exotic weapon because… it is an exotic. Like that person who soloed Crotans End with No Land Beyond. That’s crazy. That is also the game writing it’s own stories or rather players. You dont need cutscenes for that.

The game’s uptime in terms of how well the network side of things runs is amazing. The updates are relatively small and fast to download. The idiotic “discussion” in some parts of the Internet about Bungie having cut content and save it for DLC makes me mad. If only you knew how much content gets cut out of games that never see the light of day. That’s the norm. Destiny is an MMO – so you are going to have new experiences in old areas, which is what The Dark Below is. Having most of the enviroments already on your hard drive saves a lot of download time too.

Would I like more new enviroments in Destiny? Yeah, of course, but I know the reality of production schedules and creating high-definition 3d content, so ..my expectations are kept in check. Could Bungie communicate better? Yeah, they absolutely could. Some honest responses would be pretty refreshing, but I’m pretty sure there’s corporate mandates to follow there.

The friendliness of most players is something I’ve rarely experienced. Like when you are farming at that basement in Cosmodrome with the three Hive Majors (either to get 200 sensor mites or just 10 Hive Major kills, or Black Wax Idols), most of the time if there’s another player there, we dont have to talk…we know. We do it together, going just beyond the invisible barrier that triggers the spawn and do our thing. That’s my experience most of the time. Destiny players being nice and without chat, you can still emote. That is really a superb achievement that Destiny and Bungie do not get enough credit for. It truly is often amazing.

The Raids are also amazing. My first time in the Vault of Glass with my crew was one of the best video game experiences I have ever had.

The Extinction mode in Call of Duty: Ghosts

The best part of the game and the last hurrah for Neversoft. The four-player Extinction was so much fun. I really do not like endless wave -type of game modes. I much prefer Extinctions episodic nature and clear goals. You know you can get through it instead of I wonder how many hours this will take. We had a really good time with my friends playing this and grinding to get more money to upgrade our weapons and skills. I really liked the different classes and how well the designers piled different gameplay onto the Call of Duty formula. Plus there even was a story! Extinction was awesome.

Yes, I’m aware Ghosts came out in 2013.

Happy new year everybody.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

500 Exotic Bounty made me into a better Crucible player

I got over four and half days of game time invested in Destiny. I love this game so much. Really glad there’s a service break for a few hours today so I have to stop playing. Just want more content. I’m at level 29 now, almost halfway. What I want to talk to you about today is this one bounty and how it changed things for me…

So, I was playing in the evening and got one of those Exotic bounties. My first reaction when I got an exotic Weapon Bounty requiring me to get 500 points in the Crucible was “fuck off!!!”. I already had three other Exotic bounty “tickets” taking up space out of the five slots. When you got those easy Patrol Mission/Collect 200 something etc bounties, you’d rather do those especially since I already got some killer Exotic weapons…

Forcing me to play MP where I’m not very good and requiring 500 points, at least it was not kills, which would be very annoying. It was 500 points that you had to get by killing enemies and if you die, you lose points. Basically, having a positive Kill/Death ratio in every match. That is what was required. Easier said than done.

The first few matches were nothing but despair. I’m just not very good in MP even though I got max prestiges in several Call of Duty’s. I was just hating the Bounty, saying this just cannot be done. I gained 20 points, then dropped back to 5. I just could not get going.

Slowly, I grinded away and it just felt so slow. Got the first 100 points and something happened. I realized I have start playing much more carefully, or rather intelligently. I had to change my ways.


The 500 point bounty is the best thing that happened to me in Crucible and probably in multiplayer games.

Since you had to have a positive KD, I had to play smartly. Which means, I stopped running, I stopped going all over the map. I started to watch the radar a lot more closely. When I saw some action on the radar, I followed other players of my team into battle so they’d take the first hits and I could maybe get some kills easier. I also started to simply stay either between the A and B area or vice versa in Control. That’s what you tend to do in Team Deathmatch kind of games, trying to dominate an area.

I got up to 300 points and my KD was around 1.5 and 2.0. I dont think I have concentrated on any multiplayer matches as much as I did in these Control matches. I was squeezing the Dualshock 4 so hard 😀 I kept jumping back into the Inventory menu to see how my Bounty score was going. It was so annoying to see it go down after one or two great matches. I was making progress though by really changing my bad multiplayer habits.

When I hit over 400 points, my KD was around 2.5 and I did an amazing 15 kill streak. I know I would do it. It felt so good to play in a controlled, disciplined way. I was doing all the things pro palyers hav etold me to do but I’ve been too indisciplined. Looking at the radar, trying to anticipate the movement of other player sand just not running into battles, but really picking my fights and shots.

Aim for the head. That’s what you always should be doing, but it’s so hardwired into me that aim for the body because that’s easier to hit. That’s just dumb, but now I was forced to really aim for the head to try to make sure I get the kill.

In the end, it only took me like a dozen matches to get the 500 points, maybe even just 10 matches. It was so exciting for such an artifical reason. I thought the Bounty was bullshit at first, but turned out to be one of the best things in a multiplayer game – forcing me to play in a smarter way.

48 hours of Destiny – thoughts on the game and its design choices

(let me get it out of the way that I work for a company who worked on the rendering technology of Destiny)

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I’m about 48 hours into Destiny.

I started playing as soon as the servers opened up on Monday the 8th 3pm in Finland. This is the time when the game launched in New Zealand, first in the world. I’ve really enjoyed myself for the most part with the frustration stemming from not getting Legendary loot drops that would contain more Light value that would level me up from 24 to 25 and onwards.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that a lot of the progression in the game is down to chance. Or so it seems.

I have not played MMO’s much at all. Only about a days worth of Final Fantasy XIV: Realm Reborn. Before that Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast. Realm Reborn was cool, but incredibly overwhelming. Not something I ended up playing in the long run.

Destiny combines MMO elements into an state of the art console FPS. That really has not been done before and I think for the most part Destiny does it really well. I’m completely hooked on the game and have a hard time putting it down. I’m writing this on a flight over to Los Angeles and I can see my clan’s WhatsApp buzzing about Destiny loot or rather, lack of.

So about that luck. What I’m concentrating on in the game now is performing as many Bounties as possible while doing as many Patrol missions as possible, to get Vanguard reputation. Earning reputation level 2 gives access to Legendary gear and level 3 gives access to Legendary weaponry. So while I hope to score some Legendary gear from loot drops that I could use (already got two Legendary items but both for the wrong character class. Aint that a bitch. ), I’m working towards being able to control my own Destiny (pun intended) by getting enough rep and money to buy the stuff instead of relying on luck. I should have started doing that more already in the beginning of the game. So many of the people I play with and talk about the game at work or online, have played far less than me, but are at the same level with better gear and more rep.

You earn Vanguard reputation points by completing Bounties and each completed Patrol gives you a measly 10 Vanguard points. During Patrols you can pick up or rather farm materials that are specific to each planet. So you got Spirit Bloom bushes on Venus, Helium Filaments on Moon, Relic Iron on Mars (aka big pile of black frozen poop) and Spinmetal  on Earth. You can trade those in (50 units) for Vanguard reputation as well.

So while a random loot drop left behind by a killed enemy combatant might give me a Legendary item I so need right now, I’m grinding as hard as I can to get my reputation up so I can just buy the weapons and gear myself.

All this gear stuff really comes into play after level 20 when the grindreally starts. The slight problem is that by level 20 you’ve seen visually everything the game has to offer so far quite a few times over. That is a bit disappointing. The locations are beautiful, superbly realised and the core combat loop is so damn fun that the repetition is fun. I love playing and of course pretty soon the backgrounds don’t matter as much since you just concentrate on the grind, but I still would have liked at least one more environment in the game that shipped. All the levels are well designed, the overall art direction is stunningly good, but while I rather take quantity over quality, for example having Mercury as a playable area (there’s an MP map located on Mercury) would have been great. Considering Mercury and Jupiter are mentioned in the game’s Grimoire lore cards in the same veins as the other playable planes, I’d think they will be playable. However, that’s two planets and there’s two expansions coming. Does that mean there’s one planet per expansion ?

I’ve enjoyed Destiny a lot. I do however agree with some of the criticism it has received, but I’m saddened that the critical reception to Destiny has been so negative, when the game does so many things right and above all, it’s fun. The technology in the game, all the magic behind the scenes matchmaking players into different areas, the ability to change your subclass and weapons and gear at any time during the game, the seamless move into the Crucible multiplayer. These are all extremely complicated things to pull of especially on last-generation consoles for which this game was built. Or rather to work under those limitations.

I never expected much story from the game and definitely didn’t expect something like The Last of Us, which it seems some players did. Yes, the story in Destiny is almost non-existent, but it’s got enough to give a reason as to why you are fighting out there across the galaxy and gives enough context to your actions. I never really understood the stories in Halo after the first game any way.

Still, the game feels sparse and lifeless at times, but I’m quite sure it’s really down to limiting technology and mostly lack of memory. Everything’s a compromise in video games. You are at the mercy of the hardware and in this case, the lacking power of the PS3 and Xbox 360. Destiny does many stunningly complicated things in the background and I’m sure it’s been an epic struggle to get it all working. The game is a superb piece of engineering.

When it comes to giving the game bit more life, what I would really have liked is that the strange lore that you can read at Bungie.net, the Grimoire cards, would have also been in the actual game. Finding Dead Ghosts is like finding the usual diaries, recordings, newspaper clippings in any other video game. Why they don’t give you access in the game to read the Dead Ghosts stories, I’m not sure. During missions and Patrol, when everything is always online, I get it, but I thought it would have been awesome to have a “information repository” or a library sort of place in the Tower where you could go and study these things. Or a Codex like in Mass Effect. The Speaker could have talked about the Dead Ghosts to you involving him much more in the story and game in general. All of the Tower characters need more cutscenes, more personality. The shipwright Amanda for example, wouldn’t it be cool if she gave you some random missions at the Tower instead of just a voice from a radio when you activate a Patrol mission ? That would have made her feel more real and involved in your adventure. Go find her missing cat in the Tower or something. That would have been a great little way of making the Tower characters something more than cashiers.

I do not understand the complaints about not having a “proper” single player game in Destiny. Just make you session private without any Fireteam members being able to jump in your game go do the missions alone. You will still meet up with other players, but that to me is an always an amazing feature of the game. I could be playing a mission or farming alone and other players pop up and everybody grinds together.

There’s something I think a lot of reviews have missed. It’s the positivity and camaraderie amongst players in Destiny that gives me a great feel good factor. I have not felt that in other video games, though yes, Realm Reborn was quite cool, but Destiny is an action game and there’s really not been anything like this on consoles.

The other day I was farming on Mars, looting chests, waiting for them to respawn. Another player came around to do the same…and we helped each other out. We did not chat over voice,  but we still communicated. As one of us found a chest, we used the wave emote function or shoot a few rounds in the air to let the other player know that a chest had respawned somewhere. Then you waited for the other player to show up and open the chest together since they disappear in about 15 seconds once opened. Soon, as I was running out of a room or cave and the other player was on his way, he saw me and that I didnt wave or anything, he knew there was no loot back there and moved to another section to keep our farming going on. Camraderie, Guardians out in the galaxy doing their thing. Very cool.

Destiny is social enough to make that happen. That was awesome. I don’t want to chat with random players, I do not want to use some virtual keyboard to talk to them nor is there need. The game offers enough tools for random players to communicate. People complaining about Raids not having matchmaking need to talk to people in the Tower or just have friends. Not to be a complete dick, but come on, it’s not that difficult to find five other Destiny gamers out there.

It helps players cannot harm each other or steal loot, but the simple act of a higher level player coming in to help with a Public Event or some low level player struggling is a powerful thing. Even if sometimes it ruins your Bounty seeking kill mission or something. I can live with that.

In the end, this is not the end, this is the start of Destiny. This game is a service and its only the beginning. Destiny’s been built in a way that it can be modified and expanded which Bungie is doing. Expansion 1 cannot come soon enough for me!

Trials Fusion thoughts and impressions

These are my impressions of the game and not a review.

I gotta say at least before the game’s launch, I’m quite addicted to Trials Fusion. I’ve played it for a good week up to launch. It’s fun to play a finished game before it gets out in the wild. In this case, the leaderboards grew slowly and I’m actually in the top 3 and top 10 in a few tracks, which feels great. Though there’s this dude called Paavi who just kills it on most tracks and achieves heroic completion times that I cannot even dream about. As soon as the general public begins to play the game, I’m pretty sure the fun of trying to achieve a high rank on the leaderboards is gone as it’s just impossible to compete with the best players. Which is of course why there’s the Friends list to keep the competition closer.

I got play the game a few months back at RedLynx and the futuristic theme of the game left me a bit cold at first. It just feels a bit off putting.  RedLynx seems to acknowledge this as pretty much the first thing you do in a race is to bust out of the clinical futuristic sort of warehouse into the great wide open (tm Tom Petty) and the game feels far less confined than before, but I’m not entirely sold on the futuristic theme.

It’s nice to have 1080P on the PlayStation 4, though really in this game it’s all about the handling. I dont want to get into the whole resolution-gate bullshit too much of frame-rate, but let me say this…hitting 60fps on any hardware where you push really complex graphics, physics etc is super difficult and often not worth it. 60fps means you have 16 milliseconds to render everything in the frame from lighting, geometry, visibility, shaders, AI, everything. So the fact that you have the PS4 and Xbox One with a lot of power doesnt make it that much easier since the resolutions are higher and there’s just so much more to do. Lot of PS4 and Xbox One games will stick to 30fps, 1080P where you can just do so much, much more in terms of visuals, AI, dynamic stuff than what you can at 60fps. Those are facts.

Back to Trials Fusion. I found the main menu a confusing mess at first. It’s not very welcome at all, with too much information laid out in a confusing manner. You see the bottom navigation pane, but you cannot access it always which is a bit strange. It’s not always clear what options are available in the main menu at first. Once you get going, the interface, while still crammed too full of information on every screen, works well. A really smart bit of design is that you can click the left-side of the touchpad to access a screen listing the last tracks you have played, which is super great. So once I boot the game, I can just quickly tap the button and go race the tracks I’ve raced the most before.

The handling seems pretty sublime to me and there’s so much nuance involved that you can spend a crazy amount of time perfecting your runs. There’s a new layer added into the proceedings aka the trick system. You can perform tricks by pushing the right stick into various directions while airborne. There’s separate tracks where its’ all about busting out tricks and getting a high-score but the majority of the game is about completing a track as fast as you can. I dont think the tricks make you go any faster or slower, though I’ve been told in Trials Evolution the fastest times were achieved by spinning the bike in the air during jumps.

The progression seems good and actually completing the tracks seems quite easy, but of course, getting a good time and a faultless run, that’s something completely different.

Looking at the credits and the gazillion Ubisoft names there, I’m pretty sure this game has to sell a whole lot more than before to support a huge organisation. Hopefully it can do that. The really awesome thing that I wish was communicated more is that the core RedLynx team was able to concentrate more on the core of the game than before since Ubisoft Shanghai and Kiev did some of the heavy lifting behind the scenes. I know that RedLynx folks are really happy with how things are with Ubisoft, so while I’m seeing some negativity online as to why there is no online multiplayer at launch etc, based on what I’ve heard, the collaboration between the studio and it’s owner has been awesome.

Overall, this is damn good game.

It’s so easy to pick up and play, loads up fast, you can just try to spend 15 minutes with it, which turns into an hour of course as you cannot put it down. The great thing is that it’s a great video game, it’s got depth, but it also works on a casual level.

RedLynx has not lost any of it’s identity or anything like that with it’s Ubisoft-merger. The game feels a bit bigger and more…professional in some ways, but it undeniably feels like an RedLynx and Trials game down to the super catchy catchy yet tacky theme music (“welcome to the future! man, machine…” great lyrics akin to those lines :)) and the not very good  in-game music. The audio mix is superb though!

 

 

 

Some thoughts on esports: Call of Duty and PES – the little differences

 

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I’m writing this at the Call of Duty European Qualifiers / Championships that are being held at the Twickenham Rugby Stadium. No, it’s not being played outside, there’s a nice arena built inside the cavernous complex.

The only prior experience I’ve had of any type of competitive video games “sporting” event has been from the small Pro Evolution Soccer tournaments Konami has organized over the years. These were lots of fun and the gamers both in Call of Duty and PES seem relatively the same. Young men passionate about games and pretty hardcore gamers to be honest. In PES I competed, but here I’m just watching, which is quite a different experience of course.

Following Call of Duty as an esport is pretty tough even for a person like me who has over 230 hours in Ghosts multiplayer. In PES, you watch one screen and see everything as it’s 1vs1, but in Call of Duty and most similair games it’s 4v4. It’s about the view: in PES you see a lot of the pitch from high up and the two players all the time whereas in Call of Duty you have 8 separate player screens to follow. There’s one main screen that you can watch where you see the stream controlled by the casters. In this view, you can always see the entire map and all players are visible through walls etc, but it’s still not that easy to get a good overview of the action. There’s always so much happening at such speeds that it’s not easy to follow.

Of course if you know the game, it’s easier, but still feels like this is more about following certain players you really like and just watching their performance more than the entire match really. Personalities carry interest in sport and it’s evident here that there’s players who just have that something that make you want to watch them play. A good triple kill or a nice grenade throw kill are very hard to come by in tight matches like the ones in these finals, so seeing that happen, somebody getting 4-5 point killstreak is a huge achievement. The crowd definitely ooh and aahs when those happen. That’s pretty cool to see and also feel, people getting excited at what they see and the atmospere just keeps getting better throughout the day.

These dudes play with a lot of discipline too, which is a must. I’m not sure I’d have that in me, but having watched lots of matches over this weekend here in Twickenham, it’s definitely intriguing more than before. The teams put in a lot of practice, they play a good eight hours a day on average, which is pretty tough regime to maintain.

I think I will actually try to play a bit more with esports rules when I get back home.

 

PlayStation 4 – impressions after a few days of hardcore use

The next-generation is finally here and I’m so happy about it.

I’ve played around with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One devkits for better part of the last 12 months and various iterations of the Dualshock 4, but they dont really compare to having a final product that actually offers you something to play. When you have a devkit, you have nothing to play on it nor is the OS ready or connected, so really, not that much at all can be gleaned from them.

So I got a PlayStation 4 last week and spent the entire weekend in love with it. At first I placed the PS4 on the right side of my television, but then I opted to put into the place where the PS3 was on the left. Thus I moved the PS3 to the right and really, it’s gonna be retiring rather soon now. I did buy a vertical stand for the PS4, but I’m not using it so far. Feels safer to use it in horizontal fashion. You know it’s like stickers and your laptop. At first I dont put any stickers on my laptop so it feels more pristine, but years down the line, I put some cool stickers on it because I dont care so much about it anymore.

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The packaging still has too much “paperwork” and “protective gear” so it lacks that Apple feel when you open an iPhone case, you see that sexy piece of kit immediately, but my PS4 was wrapped in plastic. Still, first world problems kinda complaint. The nicest thing is that the package and the PS4 unit is so light! I have not plugged in the camera at all because I dont like how it would look in front of my tv. I want to keep my tv stand as clutter free as possible, so I dont know what to do with the camera for now. It’s just waiting on the couch.

The PlayStation 4 is sooo compact and light at 2.8 kilograms. It’s elegant, super quiet and just gives a powerful feeling when you watch it and I watched it a lot. Also the power cable is totally standard, no power brick, no special bullshit cable either. That’s some truly great engineering and design from Sony, as is to be expected.

How I felt?

Fucking excited man! Carrying the console home, making sure the lights in the crib are right, everything around me should be right for this first virgin experience of the PlayStation 4. I really felt excited and even more so when I started using the machine and it felt like something new. I felt like calling people up and telling them how awesome it was to be excited about new hardware again as this console generation has gone on for so long.

The experience

To me next-generation is about the speed and immediacy of the experience. That is definitely delivered here.

I love how fast the PlayStation 4 UI is. When your games in the AAA console space are massive in size, having the load happen quickly is rather more complicated than on an iPad or iPhone where the the executables and assets are far less in size. Killzone Shadow Fall does really nicely here considering it weighs in around 40 gigabytes.

The PS4 boots up really fast. I did get really annoyed by the background music fast too, so I turned it off. I think the UI lacks style, but I’ll take speed over style any day and I think most people do. The UI is really clear, I like how the Settings, Profiles, Chat etc options are on the upper bar while the games and apps are presented below in much more visual fashion. This is a good decision. I hate how Apple’s pushed iOS into much more visual design territory, so you have to scroll through pages and pages of images to see a few apps…a text- based list would be better since it’s a lot faster to use.

Anyway, the PS4 UI is clean and simple. Changing settings is fast enough and jumping across the game currently running and UI is super fast. I really hope things wont slow down with future OS updates when more features come online. Also, checking out network related things, which is most features, is a lot faster than on the PS3. Things like Trophy syncing, listing friends etc could be annoyingly slow on the PS3 and all that is much faster on the PS4 at least for now.

Party chat seemed to work great and the audio quality was really good considering the supplied headset is understandably cheap, but it falls out of my left ear, so I have to keep in my tighter right ear, which feels odd. That’s my problem however. Anyway, the chatting works like it works on Xbox Live so seemingly all good.

There’s still a bit too many Yes/No options asked from the user. A bit too many button presses required to achieve certain functions and asking people to join your game is still a bit confusing. I do like the chat history which looks like it came straight outta the iPhone message software.

Game load times are fast, but will become faster for sure once developers can actually concentrate on building technology just for next-gen consoles and not have to worry about PS3/Xbox 360.

As soon as I booted the console and had it connected to the Internet, the firmware update download started. This installed in the background too until it asked to reboot the machine. Game updates are similairly smooth, but you dont have to reboot at least not with the updates I had. You dont have to separately install software after the download has finished anymore which was incredibly annoying on the PS3. The system still lacks a bit of elegance. I downloaded Assassins Creed IV and I got the Season Pass, DLC, the main game all as separate downloads. Would be nicer to just hide all that from the user and install a single thing that includes everything.

All in all, I’m really happy. The UI is fast, seemingly chatting over voice is easy in parties and joining into multiplayer is a lot better than on the PS3.

The store

This is fast too. Thank goodness! Here the visual style works quite well as there is still enough information per page.

Trophies

I really hoped Sony would have re-worked the Trophy system, because the current system is just boring and lacks the scoring element and fun of Xbox Gamerscore which is just a lot more addictive. I think Sony really missed a chance here. I’d love to see a proper overhaul.

Controller

So fucking good (that’s what she said) that I dont want another controller. I had toyed with the final controller a while ago, but having no games to play with it, you couldnt get a feel for it. Now that I’ve got to use the Dualshock4 in Call of Duty: Ghosts and Killzone Shadow Fall, I can say that the controller is awesome. The analogue sticks are great, closer to the Xbox 360 controller ones in terms of tightness and responsiveness. They are not slippery either. I cant really find any fault with the controller so far. The touch pad button is used in most games I got, like it brings up the map in ACIV and you can move around the map using touch controls which is intuitive. Killzone Shadow Fall uses the touch functionality really well with the OWL. Not an intrusive mechanic, but a fitting one.

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Call of Duty: Ghosts opening level on the PS4. That 1080P just feels so good and nice. Definitely makes the game look better than on old gen. It really felt new and refreshing on a new console even if it isn’t.

Lack of multimedia

Initially I was very disappointed about the lack of DLNA support as the PS3 was my main means of watching downloaded movie files. MP3 support I dont care for so much anymore as most of us stream music anyway and I plug in my iPhone into my amp if I want to play MP3’s. It’s  the sort of “cool to have” feature that you use a few times and then forget about it.

I think focusing the PS4 as pure games machine, at least for now, is smart decision from Sony. The PS4 is a pure games console, there’s no photos, no movies etc to complicate things and clutter the UI. I can understand the decision and kinda like it when I use the PS4 now. We got so many other devices to do these other things on such as the TV. I dont think storing photos on a console and watching them on it was something most people did anyway so cutting that feature out is completely fine. It’s about focus. Same with movie playback. It would be nice, but still, my TV now does the whole DLNA thing and a dedicated player is cheap and better. A single device is just not gonna do things as well in those aspects as you’d want it so Sony’s smartly just concentrated on making the PS4 a games machine. I wouldn’t be surprised if these multimedia features would appear in firmware updates, but I dont miss them now. Microsoft definitely has a chance here to offer better multimedia services than the PS4.

KZ package

Social

The video sharing was confusing to me at first. So if the machine records the last 15 minutes of gameplay, then why do I have to press the Share button to record video? Turns out, when you press it, that’s where it cuts the video and thus renders out the last 15 minutes. I didnt quite work this out right as I had one of those epic CoD moments and I was all like “motherfucker this is exactly what this video feature is made for!”, but I didnt get the clip at all. Frustrating, but mostly down to my lack of skills.

So what happened in that Ghosts match was that I ended up behind a flag in Domination only for the opposing team’s five players to spawn right in front of me. For once I blasted them all instead of dreaming of blasting them all and the amount of XP and then just failing to hit any of them! So no, I wasnt able to catch this on video.

Also, I cannot find a delete function for the taped videos and screenshots?!?

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Bringing established franchises to a smaller screen

I’ve dusted off the Vita recently and played Hotline Miami which is awesome. Then I’ve played Killzone Mercenary, which looks stunning on the Vita. It plays good too. The Vita is a great piece of hardware, no doubt.

Killzone Mercenary also highlights a dilemma that Sony has not really cracked and this was an issue on the PSP as well.

I remember when the PSP first came out and how amazing it seemed. I was being told that I can now play Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution Soccer on the PSP and it would be the same game and experience as on the PS2. Now that sounded awesome, I could play the same game on the plane. How can that not be great? I played PES so hardcore, I thought it would be awesome to keep playing the game on the plane.

Sadly, reality is different. It’s not quite the same game, not quite the same controls, not quite the same experience as sitting on the couch in front of the big ass tv. The reality hits that you will never play the exact same game on a smaller screen, of course you are not. You will be playing an approximation of the “main game” . So why would I play PES or Killzone on a smaller screen when it’s like 80% of the experience? That’s the problem. It doesnt feel quite as good. If it doesnt, you wont play it for very long.

But you have to bring your big franchises to your other systems. That’s what one does. Even in this day and age when Sony’s own franchises and I think franchises in general dont drive us gamers to systems like they did on the 16-bit and PlayStation days.

This is Sony’s dilemma really.

It has published great original content on both the PSP (Locoroco, Patapon, for example) and the Vita, but those dont seem to drive sales of the hardware, so you have to bring your known franchises to the portable platform and hope they generate sales. They dont seem to. Sure, you can argue that Gran Turismo PSP aint as good as the PS2 game and Killzone Mercenary is not as good as Killzone 3 on the PS3.

I think Killzone Mercenary is a good game. It’s got great controls and the gameplay is bite sized enough that you can make progress in the levels in short bursts. Of course, you can always pause the Vita, so in some ways, it doesnt matter if the level is 15 minutes to 55 minutes. But shorter is far, far better these days.

What I really dislike is how many reviews compare Killzone Mercenary to the PS3 games and say it’s not as good. What the fuck is that? Sure, it’s aping a “real” console game, but I dont think you should review it by comparison. Comparing Killzone Mercenary to the PS3 game and saying it’s not quite as good must be really infuriating for the development team. I can totally understand that.

On the other hand, Sony’s selling the game by saying it’s a console-like experience and of course, the only comparison with Wipeout and Killzone on the Vita we have are the PS3 games. I think Killzone Mercenary does a good job of taking the universe and the style and build something out of it that’s relatively well suited to the Vita.

This is a difficult thing to crack. You need your big franchises on various platforms and they have certain standards to uphold. Though, I have to say what Guerrilla (and Housemarque…) did with Killone Liberations on the PSP was awesome. They used a top down view, since the PSP didnt have enough 3D power, but you cannot really take that approach on the Vita.

I think the indie game approach Sony is now taking up for the Vita is a good one. I dont think a single Vita indie game will sell the machine by itself, but I do think it will really help and as the price of the hardware is coming down…who knows.

Ruisrock 2013 -raporttia

Finnish style, this time.

Täytin heinäkuun ekalla viikolla vuosia ja sopivasti saman viikon perjantaina lähettiin Koirien kanssa Turkuun Ruisrockiin. Niille, jotka eivät tiedä, niin toimin Roope Salminen ja Koirat -bändin taustavoimissa. Soitimme Koffin valtavalla anniskelualueella koko festivaalin ajan – kun päälavalla ja teltassa oli tauko niin oli meikäläisten vuoro soittaa. Niinpä vedot kestivät noin 15 minuuttia, jonka jälkeen venailtiin tunti ja soitettiin lisää. Siistiä tässä oli se, että meidän lavalta näki loistavasti päälavalle. Porukka alkoi ollla “kohtalaisessa” maistissa jo iltapäivällä niin lavamme edessä olevassa pomppulinnassa alkoi olee aika hervoton meininki. Oli todella hauskaa ja Koffin tytöt olivat flirttailevaa sorttia bändin soittavia jäseniä kohtaan, joten iso kiitos heille hienosta viikonlopusta. Oli tosi hienoa, että meillä oli oma lava, joilla muut ei soittanut. Olimme ainoa bändi, joka soitti festareiden jokaisena päivänä.

Ennen kuin pääsimme alueelle lauantaina niin tuli taas erään bändin jäsenen kanssa perussäätöä lipuista jne, mikä kiristi muun bändin hermoja, mutta siitäkin sitten selvittiin. Jotenkin saatiin autotkin kivan lähelle lavaa niin ei tarttenut roudata kovin kaukaa. Välimäen Midhill-rafla oli lavan vieressä niin sai sitäkin operaatiota ihailla. Ei käy kateeks kokkeja muutenkaan kiireisissä rafloissa, mutta festareilla ruoan tekeminen…huh.

Perjantaina ja lauantaina meillä oli keikat jo “home away from home” -paikaksi muodostuneessa Turun keskustan Apollo-yökerhossa. Perjantai tuli itse vedettyä lootakii, mutta ei nyt mitään övereitä. Taidettiin hakea Urhon kanssa kiekot Apollon lähellä olevasta pizzeriasta keikan jälkeen. Urho on hieno mies! Lauantaina sitten olikin upea aurinkoinen sää ja oltiin koko päivä Ruisrockissa. Tuli taas syötyy bäkkärillä aikamoiset setit. Mietin tässä taas salilla ja lenkillä käydessäni , että miks mä edes vaivaudun? Pitäis antaa olla vaan levitä ja nauttii ruoasta.

Meillä oli oma bäkkäri lavan alla, jonka edellä mainitut Koffin tytöt rakensi meille (kiitos Carita!) mutta suurin osa ajasta meni hengaillessa päälavan vieressä oleva bäkkärillä syödessä. Siellä pääsi myös kunnon posliinille vessaan! Kyllä se tuntui hyvältä, huhuh.

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Kun Koirat lähtivät lauantai-iltana vetämään Apolloon ja itse jäin festareille, koska halusin nähdä HIMin keikan. Backstagella löytyikin sitten tuttua porukkaa, jotka kuvasivat ja editoivat kaikki Ruisrockissa ennen keikkoja näytetyt artistihaastattelut. Olin osan tämän porukan kanssa tehnyt mm. tämän dokkarin:

No siinä sitten alettiin vetelemään porukoiden viinoja kun vaihdettiin kuulumisia ja päätettiin mennä katsomaan HIMin keikkaa lavalta. Artistipassi on hieno juttu, sillä pääsee käytännössä festareilla kaikkialle. Ei tarvitse vaeltaa massan seassa, vaan voi liikkua kätevästi eri lavojen välille rakennetuilla reiteillä. Ruisrockin organisointi oli jotakin ihan mahtavaa. Muutamat festarit olen käynyt läpi ja Ruisrock on ihan nextillä levelillä, mitä tulee tapahtuman toimivuuteen, palveluihin, melkeinpä kaikkeen.

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Päälavan alla oli roudareiden hieno “lair”. Grillikin löytyi!

Näin HIMin porukoiden menevän lavalle ja Ville Valo hieman jäljessä perässä joten kun bändi menivät lavalle, niin menimme perässä. Katsoin koko keikan lavan (yleisöstä katsottuna) vasemmalla puolella noin 4-5 metrin päässä bändistä, joiden tyttöystävät olivat myös vieressä. Lavallahan musa kuulostaa aika surkealta, kun kaikki PA on suunnattu yleisöön, mutta fiilis on tietenkin mieletön etenkin kun näkee yleisömeren lavan edessä. Kuinka tuohon voi väsyä? Soittaa yleisön edessä? Kaikesta tosin tulee rutiinia. Sen olen jo vuosien varrella oppinut.

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Katselin keikan tuossa alusta loppuun ja sitten mentiin takaisin bäkkärille. Mietin, että nyt tai ei koskaan olisi oiva mahdollisuus käydä juttelemassa bändin pojille. Hetken venattuani suuntasimme bäkkärin perälle, jossa HIMin kaverit hengailivat muijineen ja tietenkin Seppo Vesterinen oli in the house.

Ennen kuin ehdin oikein sanoa mitään niin kosketinsoittaja Burton osoittaa minua, kävelee kohti ja toteaa, että MoonTV URL oli mahtava tv-ohjelma. No, siitähän juttu sitten lähti käyntiin ja kävikin ilmi, että Burton oli tehnyt jotakin hommia aikoinaan MoonTV:llä. Maailma on pieni paikka, what can I say? Otti musta vielä “kaverikuvan” omalla luurillaan!

Fanitin sitten kitaristi-Lindeä siinä tovin ja kunhan mun alkujännitys katosi niin puhuttiin viime vuoden lopun Tavastiakeikoista. Linde pyysi anteeksi kahta ekaa keikkaa, mutta itse ekalla olleena niin iha hyvä veto sekin oli vaikka sanat unohtuikin ja muutenkin oli jännitystä ilmassa. Oli kyllä tosi hieno fiilis, kaverit olivat niin rentoja ja maanläheisiä, etten oikein tiedä mitä sanoa. Lindekin vaikuttaa aika ujolta ja introvertiltä kaverilta (just like me!), mut oli kyllä selvästi tottunut fanien hermostuneisiin höpötyksiin, niin ei siinä mitään. Hienoja kavereita molemmat herrat.

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No, sitten piti jotenkin selvitä takaisin Turun keskustaan. Piti olla kyyti tiedossa, erään kotimaisen nimeltä mainitsemattoman suuren musavaikuttajan bemarissa, mutta kaveri ei ollut ajokunnossa, joten sain kunnian ajaa seurueen Turkuun. No, hitusen kylmää hikee puski kun pelkäsin että olin itsekin jurrissa eikä hirveesti tehnyt mieli romuttaa BMV:tä, mutta nopeesti siinä selvis ku paniikki iski. Ekaks ajelin Ruissalon leirintäalueella jonne dropattiin Roopen (Salmisen) broidi Santtu, joka toimi meidän kuvaajana. Hitusen oli kuumottava ajaa joskus 03:00 sysipimeellä tiellä jossa känninen festarikansa hoipertelee. GTA-tyyliin vaan kaasu pohjaan, ei siin midist, jengi lens kuitenkin sinne puskiin.

Sitten kohti Turun downtownia ja luukutettiin sitten ikkunat auki musaa. Turun keskustassa pärähti Dr Dren Chronic soimaan ja sitä sitten hoilattiin ihan liekeissä. Eeppinen ajomatka kerta kaikkiaan.

Ehdin Apolloon sopivasti roudaamaan bändin kamoja takaisin kämpille ja sit yritin siinä nukkua, mutta samassa huoneessa oli meitä kolme ja yskivä groupie niin eihän siinä saanut nukuttuu. Olin vielä niin HIM-adrenaliinihuuruissa, että valvoin melkein koko yön. Aamulla menin 09:00 junalla Helsinkiin, kävin himassa suihkussa, otin toisen pakatun laukun ja lähdin 14:30 lennolla Chicagon kautta San Franciscoon katsomaan The Bureau: XCOM Declassified -peliä ja lensin sitten päivän kuluttua takaisin Helsinkiin.

The Last of Us demo impressions based on the two level beta demo

(there are no spoilers here)

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The demo contains two levels. One is very short and is all about combat. The second, hopefully, is much more indicative of what the game really is about. This demo level is a slow paced, athmosperic and powerful sequence of affairs.

The crunch at Naughty Dog has apparently been pretty epic on this game (first Naughty Dog to ever have been delayed from it’s original launch date), but it always has been. The quality of this demo feels superb, but is probably even higher in the final product.

The “end of the world” theme and zombies are very tired themes and things to explore. That was my first reaction upon hearing about The Last of Us. That was of course preceded by excitment for an brand new IP from Naughty Dog. Still, it’s about the story and if you can offer something interesting from a drama and character point of view, where you set it, doesnt matter as much.

This is clearly a game where you want to avoid spoilers and watching too much footage since it really seems to rely very much on the story. It simply has to – a game with these sort of themes: survival, being alone and so on, to differentiate from The Walking Dead, Enslaved and others out there – the story has to be powerful. But it’s also probably that like in the Walking Dead, not much will explained at the end, why the epidemic has happened, so there’s probably not going to be a “proper”, explain-it-all ending. So, I assume The Last of Us really is about the journey that the two lead characters are taking. But I really do hope it offers proper closure at the end of the journey.

The demo sells this really well. The dialogue between Ellie and Joel is lively and believable. The voice acting is great and the chatter has a lively feel to it (even if it sounds sometimes too much like it’s been recorded in the studio) and there is a lot of it. There is a lot of sequences where Ellie will comment on Joels comings and goings. It’s a pleasure to hear form her – there’s a very organic feel to the game.

The feel really is what sells this to me. The visuals are often incredible as is the lighting. Just imagine what you will see on the PlayStation 4 three-fours years from now, when compute shaders are being fully utilized. The world in The Last of Us feels lived in, dead, yet alive. We’ve all seen barren streets with wrecked cars and dead-ends with large school buses etc in so many games and movies, yet here they feel fresh.

There’s just a great feeling of being there, which is something the technically far less efficient (and of course having been made on a much smaller budget) The Walking Dead did not have. The world in The Last of Us seems like something I want to know more about and also I want to know more about Joel and Ellie.

I really do not want to see more of this game before I have the final game and can sit down and play it by myself, turn off all social media so I can just sink myself into this world. Though having said that, this is a game that is also entertaining to watch as somebody plays it.

So the fears of the themes being very worn out, I do not have anymore after having played the demo, but of course, the demo is less than an hour of the game, which apparently offers something like a 15 hour single player story. That’s my only worry really – the game sounds too damn long.

I really do think one of the biggest problems developers and publishers now have is that they make single player games way too long. I think that actually turns people off (no from The Last of Us though, I feel) from buying certain games. We just do not have the time these days to spend 15-20 hours with single player games. I understand that developers and publishers are afraid of losing revenue to rentals and afraid that gamers thikn they are not getting enough value for 50 dollars, but we are. We definitely are.

The gameplay in The Last of Us, especially in the slower paced Lincoln-level, like I said, I really hope this is what the game is about – very careful, slow-paced exploration where avoiding the enemies is really necessary. Basically whenever the infected saw me and rushed me, I would die. There’s no hammering the buttons or a QTE offering escape – you get caught, you die.

That I think is already a bold move in current climate of video games where the fear of death is non-existent.  Shooting does not have the clinical finesse of Call of Duty and on purpose. There’s some realism to the shooting here with shaky hands and inaccuracy in the aiming. Again, this is a great, refreshing move and hopefully the game sticks to it’s guns until the end so to speak.

So in the slower-paced level, one has to climb on top of a building and use a wooden plank to get across to another building. This mechanic repeated itself a few times. Now, when everything looks so damn realistic, it’s stil a game, so you can only interact with a few things. So the plank is resting across a chainlink fence and I figured I have to get it up to the building’s roof, but how can I climb up carrying it? Ellie was of no help. Took me a while to realize I had to rest the plank across the building’s wall, then climb to the roof, then grab the plank to hoist it onto the roof and place it across the chasm between the two buildings. Makes sense.

Another critical thing that the game will have to do to be succesful and realistic is to have scarce resources. If there’s too many bullets available, then even though killing the infected is tough, you can just use a lot of ammo to survice. We are so used to the fact in the video games these days that there’s never a lack of resources because designers are too scared to lose players because the game might be tough or require strategy. It’s a very, very fine line. Clearly, there’s a lot of small rooms behind locked doors that you need to build shiv’s to open them. Spend resources to build shivs and you can access these “resource rooms”, but by spending some resources. How all of this will play out, it’s super hard to balance out so we shall see.

I do assume this is a game that one should play without any of the multitude of helping functions like pointers and HUD elements showing things that you can interact with. Of course then, you will end up hugging everything in the enviroments kinda like in an old school adventure game to figure out what you can use and what you cannot. The game feels so real and tries to be real that logical solutions to problems are what come to mind, but of course, this is not a simulation, it’s a game so it works in a certain kinda way.

The graphics, the feel and tone of the game are huge parts of The Last of Us just as they are in Uncharted – they really are the building blocks of the game. Also, this is kind of like in Grand Theft Auto – it’s about…enjoying the athmospere, soaking it all in and enjoying it. Even if it’s all about insane people, death and bacteria.

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I’m pretty sure that any criticism the game will face, the rather dour answer will be that “at least we are trying to push the envelope in story-telling, so never mind the little details”.

Kind of what the Bioshock Infinite has experienced. It’s a sign of a great game that it’s merits generate so much discussion and columns. Now, I think Bioshock Infinite is an amazing game – I dont mind the gamey aspects of it like stealing everything everywhere you got and emptying ever nook and cranny in front of non-reactful NPC’s. That what you do in video games and there’s so many technical challenges in making video games that in Bioshock, Irrational chose to concentrate on the story and other things rather than getting rid of basic gameplay tenets. 

Now yes, it did annoy a little bit that I sort of had to get the “stealing resources” out of the way in every building and gameplay sequence of Bioshock Infinite to enjoy the rest of it, but I can live with that.

Same with The Last of Us, there’s some gameplay elements that might jar with the realism, but only concentrating that is losing the bigger picture – that a developer is trying hard to do something new, a new IP and trying to explore mature, adult theme’s and drama.

Also, I have to push the point that The Last of Us looks absolutely stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

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