Monday, February 16, 2009

Games and games and games and games

Viking Battle for Asgard
I've got nothing specific to write about this week, so I've gone for the tried and tested route of rambling half-coherently about a bunch of games that I have been playing.

First up is Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise. Two years and three days ago I wrote about the interface to Viva Pinata. I played the first game a lot (980 points, gamerscore fans!) and though I'd got used to the annoyances (the loading delays, the odd pauses, the haphazard layout) I couldn't understand how they had made it into the finished game.

I also thought it was fairly obvious where the weaknesses were, so for a sequel it should have been quite an easy job to fix. It's not like there's a lot else different, so some staff could spend the full development time making it, if not a joy to use, at least not a chore.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the crap interface is back. There are some minor improvements (some shortcutting to the seed menu, for example), but they are far outweighed by the sheer stupidity of one addition.

Question: how do you take the horribly unintuitive, complicated, slow interface from Viva Pinata, and make it worse?

Answer: by adding randomly flashing elements that serve no purpose but to confuse people.

I'm not even kidding. Watch this Youtube video, and skip to around the 30 second mark. Can you see the little coloured tabs with symbols on that are flipping in and out around the dialogue box? That happens all over the place, and it's horribly distracting and confusing. Especially during the tutorials, where the game is trying to bring your attention to something else, and there are randomly blinking elements animating all over the place.

Speaking of the tutorial, they've got that wrong again too. It's entirely overwhelming (keep in mind I played the first game a huge amount two years ago, and I was lost following it) because the game runs normally in the background. So while it's slowly trying to take you through things step by step, it's constantly being interrupted by cutscenes to show new Pinata arriving, or messages about you levelling up, or something else that doesn't matter at all at the time, but that the game can't help itself but pop in your face.

Not only is it distracting, but it's a lesson in false cause and effect. Did the new Pinata arrive because of what I was just doing, or because of some other random occurrence? You end up battling to work out what elements are a direct consequence of your most recent action, and which just coincidentally fired off at the exact time you did what the tutorial was telling you.

And then once the fairly short tutorial has finished, you're just left on your own. No gentle diminishing of the hand holding. It's just there, leading you through each step, then suddenly not there at all.

I feel slightly ashamed that I'm this baffled by a game that's aimed at a younger audience. Are my synapses really past it?

Anyway, that's enough Pinata bashing. I doubt I'll bother to fire it up again.

The other game that's been getting a lot of play time is Viking: Battle for Asgard. It's a you-vs-insurmountable-odds hack n slash, where you spend the majority of the time wandering around the huge open maps hunting out trapped vikings.

The demon forces of Hel have captured them all you see (most are in cages, but some are just tied to sticks), so you need to free them in order to build an army big enough to trigger the level's climactic assault on a demon stronghold.

Though it's mostly a button basher, there's some strategy to be had - you can pick off some enemies with stealth attacks, if you hide along their patrol route, and most enemy camps have multiple ways in. Though you can always just Rambo it through the front door if you're a double hard viking bastard. Throwing axes and molotov-style fire pots add another level of options as you progress, too.

Not many people I know have picked this up, but I'd definitely recommend it. It's pretty, it's gory, it's fairly non-strenuous. How Eurogamer thought it only justified a 5/10 I'll never work out.

Some other quick thoughts on some demos I've played:

Killzone 2 - Doesn't set the world on fire with ingenuity, but it's a solid shooter. Annoyingly short demo. Will pick up the full game.

FEAR 2 - Predictable "scares", fuzzy controls, doesn't seem to be much different from the original that I found painfully dull. Pass.

HAWX - I'm pretty sure being able to see what direction I'm flying in is quite important when you're in control of a jet plane. The cinematic mode camera is very far out too, giving you boring shots of two very small planes against a big blue background.

Halo Wars - Eventually someone's bound to stumble upon the magic control set that makes RTS games work on consoles. I'm sure this will be good if you're one of the odd people who think Halo has a gripping and interesting back story.

PS - This is the first post I've written entirely on my new laptop (a Dell Studio 17). I like it a lot. Their courier company (Walsh Western) leaves a lot to be desired though, as do the Dell customer support who blatantly lied to me on the phone.

PPS - Also starting to see "the point" in Twitter. It turns out a version of Facebook that just has status updates is what I wanted. Starting to filter out the people who I'd initially followed but who I don't really want to read about, and adding more people who are interesting.

PPPS - It's good to see a lot of positive press about our last game when it hit the NY Comic Con too. People saying nice things about 25 months of your hard work is very gratifying.

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