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Archive for September, 2009

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Since opening up the test applications, the Star Wars: The Old Republic site was bombarded and had to be taken down. It still is finicky and giving people a lot of problems, I finally completed my sign up after several attempts – And want to tell you all how I did it.

First of all, I used IE instead of Firefox, it seemed to help. With Firefox I was getting an endless loop. Anyway, here’s what to do for the time being:

NOTE: Obviously all of these steps May not/Shouldn’t be required, but this is what worked for me. Good luck.

1. Go here http://www.swtor.com/user/register

2. Scroll to the bottom of the agreement. Fill in the box that says you read it, hit enter and tab. Then click on Continue.

3. THIS WILL SAVE YOU SOME HASSLE: Fill in all the information. Usernames are letters only, which is annoying. Scroll to bottom of Terms and Conditions.  DO NOT CLICK ON THE BETA SIGNUP BUTTON YET. CREATE YOUR ACCOUNT. If you click yes now and the process botches (which it will do repeatedly) you will have to enter this information AGAIN.

4. Once your account has been created, log into it from the swtor website. (email address/password). Click on My Account in the corner.

5. Now scroll down and you will again see the question to sign up for the beta test. Go ahead and do it now. I filled in the information and submitted it, also putting something in the optional phone field.

6. Submit your Scan Data. Make sure if you have active X blocked, you allow it to run. Speed seems to be important here. As soon as the scan is done, press complete/submit data.

7. If you are SUCCESSFUL, you’ll see a Congratulations message back at the My Account page. If you are NOT successful (which I wasn’t several times) you will be brough back to the Terms and Conditions page to do this again. Hopefully your info should automatically fill in and you can just click submit and try again. If not, put in the info then press “Provide Later” then go back to step 5 and try it again.

8. It took me several tries, including 3 scans. The traffic load is high, and obviously there was some problems with the app. But if you do this, you should get in.

NOTE: Obviously all of these steps May not/Shouldn’t be required, but this is what worked for me. Good luck. Repeating again.

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New update 4.2 from Nintendo disables and REMOVES Homebrew. Make sure you do NOT update if you’re homebrewing it up!

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mmcover

I’ve been on a little bit of a retro-gaming kick, and I couldn’t help notice that not only was Mega Man II not reviewed, the database information is also incorrect – This game was released for the original Game Boy, not the GBC. The Mega Man series is of course a classic one, and this Gameboy original features bosses from the NES versions of Mega Man 2 and 3, and gameplay elements from MM3, including the slide and Rush, your companion robo-dog.

Quick Facts:
Game: Mega Man II
System: Nintendo Game Boy
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer
Released: 1992
Time to Complete: 2-3 hours.

Chances are, you’re not going to run out and buy this title here in 2009, but if you did dust it off – you wouldn’t be disappointed. Many of the best elements of the Mega Man series – interesting enemies and weapons, well designed levels, quality graphics and music – all make an appearance. This is a lot of game to fit on a Game Boy cartidge.

After struggling through the long Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, I needed to mix it up and go simple – 2 buttons, short and sweet. Mega Man II fit the bill. Playthrough only took me a couple of hours spread out through a few sessions (The game has a password system, and also allows unlimited continues) and the difficulty level has definitely been scaled back from some of the earlier NES Mega Man titles.

You’ll run, you’ll slide, you’ll jump – and you’ll collect various weapons from the bosses. It translates very well to the small screened hand held, however a few concessions were definitely made. Cheif among them is the difficulty is almost too easy – The makers crammed a lot of elements into the game, and most of the puzzles are easily bypassed by using items like the Rush Jet. The Rush Marine also feels kind of forced and gimmicky (This is the only game in the Game Boy series where it appears) and even the Rush Spring is used in very obvious and not challenging ways.  Unlimited continues, short levels, and generally simple puzzles reduced the challenge factor a great deal.

Some other minor complaints involve enemies rewspawning endlessly if you move on and off screen, and the generally uselessness of the weapon powerups you get – You really don’t time to use many of them, and most of them are ineffective against a majority of the games bosses, which are all taken out fairly easily with the default mega blaster.
mm2 Graphics:

If you’ve ever seen a Mega Man game, you know what to expect from the graphics. They translate sharply, look crisp – no slowdown or flicker. The enemies are generally interesting to look at.

If you’ve NOT seen a Mega Man game, think of your closest Japanese themed platformer from the generation. Or google up some images.

Sound:

Nothing to write home about, the sound is what you’d expect. The original stage music was a nice touch.

Control:

Controls are simple – move with the d pad, fire with one button, jump with the other. The slide move is executed by holding down and jumping. Item selection is activated when you press start. The game behaves well, and responds well.

Gameplay:

Mega Man II has you in the role of Mega Man, once again helping out Dr. Light against the villanous Dr. Wily. Story is one area where this game lacks a bit, as you really aren’t given much incentive, dialogue, or plot for that matter. You’re told to go, and you go until you send the crazy robot maker packing.

You start off with a choice of 4 stages, and when you complete them all you’re dropped to a second section with 4 more stages where you can’t SEE who waits behind each door. Sometimes, previous enemies weapons are especially useful against other bosses – For example, the Metal Blade is naturally effective against the Wood Man.

However, some other weapons took up too much energy to use or were just generally useless. As mentioned previously, the game is quite easy, and pretty much a “what you see is what you get” sort of experience.

The addition of Rush the dog to get you through a couple areas feels a tad uncessary, and other than for character recognition, really doesn’t add much to gameplay. I will admit using the Rush Jet to bypass a few jumping puzzles felt good though.

What I liked:

1. Simple gameplay.
2. Responsive controls.
3. Varied enemies.

What I didn’t like:

1. Not very challenging.
2. Seemed like they added a lot to the game, not really allowing anything to stand out.
3. Weapon additions could have been more useful.

The Bottom Line:

A pleasant, though unexceptional entry to the series. Fans won’t be disappointed.

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Interesting Week In Gaming

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This has nothing to do with my post. It was just the coolest picture I saw today.

Despite nearly being driven from the hobby by Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, I have continued to game – though I’ve gone lower tech, as I received a Cyclo DS Evolution and have been going through classic Gameboy and Gameboy Color games – Beating Mega Man II in a couple hours through a couple sittings. I am also still hammering away at Age of Empires: Mythologies on my DS, but getting a tad tired of it – The Scenario maps are all pretty large and open, and take a fair amount of time to complete. I’ve also played some Halo ODST multiplayer, downloaded Contra: Rebirth on my Wii, and messed with a little more Earth Defense Force 2017.

So, what’s been going on? Blizzard COO Paul Sams has bought into the Pittsburgh Steelers, an interesting mesh of sports and gaming.

Speaking of World of Warcraft, “reSTART” – an addiction center for gamaholics has opened up and not suprisingly, it’s first inhabitant is a self described World of Warcraft Addict.

The PSP Go has been announced, and it has sent some ripples through the gaming community who seem to be resisting the world of downloadable content.

On the subject of DLC, Direct2Drive has an amazing sale going on right now with several titles for just $5, including World of Goo, which is great fun.

And, for fun – check out this game from Kongragate – called Multitask.

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http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3176142

netflix
According to a 1UP.com Story, Netflix could wind up on all consoles. I don’t have a 360, but my main gaming partner does, and Netflix on it is awesome. The sheer volume and ease of titles for the cost makes it an incredible value. In fact, I often say if I had a 360 it would be for three things. Geometry Wars, Castle Crashers, and Netflix. So I hope this happens sooner than later to a Wii near me.

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http://www.mayfairgames.com/shop/product/3000-3299/pages/3109.htm

Speaks for itself.

Speaks for itself.

Need I say more?

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FE1

It’s over. I finally defeated “Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn” early this morning. Normally after completing a video game, I feel a sense of accomplishment – or perhaps a rush from the excitement. There was none of that this morning, however. I feel like I’ve survived some sort of torture camp, and made it out. I feel relieved, and drained.

Normally, I believe in short reviews, but I spent so much time playing this title, I am going to spend some extra time writing about it.

Let me tell you a sad tale. I got a Wii when it first came out, and one of the titles I was  excited for was “Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn”. It had come out in late 2007, and having played the GBA title “Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones” , I had really liked the gameplay and character progression aspects of the series. I even got the FIRST U.S. released Fire Emblem GBA game (The series has a long history in Japan), only to have it be in my GBA when it was stolen a few years ago.

That’s not the saddest part. So, having loved the GBA titles, I was very excited to play the Wii game. I did not have a Gamecube, so I didn’t have “Path of Radiance”, the prequel to “Radiant Dawn”. I remember starting it when I first got it. I played for the first several chapters only to discover that a fairly poorly designed gameplay element (The game would let you continue while missing important plot developments and receiving important items), then started over. I got to about the same point in the game, when I put it down for some reason, and didn’t get to pick it back up until a few weeks ago.

By this time, I had already put 15-20 hours into the game. Fast forward to a year and a half later when I started it again, and in my old age with more stuff to deal with, I completely forgot about the frustrating gameplay flaw, and did the SAME THING AGAIN. Ok, I’ll take the blame for forgetting about the bad design. So I had to start over again, having ALREADY logged roughly 25-30 hours into the game total.

A lesser person would have quit at that point, cursing the poor design. But I optimistically trudged on. My game complete clock reads in around 55 hours, but with frequent resets and retries, as well as reading conversations and watching cutscenes, I estimate my total time played at 80 hours. This is far too long for a game.

Let me say now – I am normally not an idiot, and I am quite good at video games, and the turn based strategy genre in general. Doing some quick research points to other people logging upwards to 100 hours to beat the game, and THEN these poor fools play it AGAIN on hard for a couple extra characters

They really should have called this game “Fire Emblem: Reset Button”, because that’s what you’ll be doing. A lot. Resetting and reloading. As you can imagine, it isn’t a lot of fun.

For those unfamiliar with the series, “Fire Emblem” is a turn based strategy/RPG game. A couple of the hallmarks of the series involve the level of difficulty, as well as “perma death” if one of your characters dies. Especially in this game, the problem with perma death is that oftentimes you can’t complete the quest if one of your characters dies, or can’t afford to lose the items or strength they possess, so you are forced to reload your previous save game and try to avoid whatever mistake you made to result in death. One defense against this is the in level save feature, but many times you get caught up and forget to do it for a few turns, and have an untimely accident, and are forced to play through 10-15 minutes of the game again.

The basic gameplay works like this: You have characters of different classes/skills (these start out prechosen, you tweak a little, but the char path is mostly predetermined) who follow two sets of Rock/Paper/Scissors. Melee characters wield Swords>Axes>Lances>Swords, and Magic users have Wind>Fire>Thunder>Wind. To mix things up, there is also Dark Magic which trumps the other forms, and Light Magic which is weak against the main three, but beats Dark. There are also Bow users and the rogue classes uses Knives, which don’t equate into the format. Characters advance primarily by hitting/killing enemies in combat, though healers gain exp through healing, rogues through stealing as well, etc. Characters have 3 total class progressions, and they get more powerful and gain abilities as they rise in the teirs.

Using these characters, you play out chapters on a grid, where you position and place your troops to maximize their strengths. Characters can build “support relationships” but being next to eachother in battle long enough, and you can initiate conversations to gain some insight into their friendship. Also, certain characters have histories, and their support relationships are better and yield more interesting backstory.

In between  battles you can buy better weapons and items and divvy them among your characters. You can also acquire “skills” which allow a decent level of customizability, and give units special powers like the ability to negate an enemies counter-attack,  or perhaps to be stronger against a specific type of unit.

This is a tweaked, but more or less same style of play that has been prevelant throughout the Fire Emblem series – and it is laudable and fun. However, this time around, there are a myriad of problems.

The AI in this game is simply terrible. This counts for enemies and allies, who often will attack units they can’t damage, and otherwise behave in suicidal ways. If the AI played remotely like a human opponent, no one would make it past level 3. It led to frustrating levels trying to save your pals who seemed hell bent on tossing themselves into spears, and “laughable” levels where the opponents simply wait around for you to kill all their henchmen then standing alone on their dais, challenge you and your 15 friends to a duel, and then genuinely act shocked when you defeat them.

resetbutton

Gameplay screenshot!

Another problem with this is the gameplay itself. Especially on the later levels, there are more or less unavoidable situations where a valuable character may die, based on random chance – resulting in a reload. Difficulty based on the gameplay itself is great, I like a challenge. Difficulty based on poor mechanics and stupid chance is something else. Added to this is the fact that it literally takes a minute or two to reload/reset the game every time this happens, and it’s obvious how this title becomes an exercise in tedium.

I did not play “Path of Radiance”, the game that was out for Gamecube – but by all indications, the presentation was basically the same. So for being out on a next gen console, the game looks decidedly last gen – Which, people don’t play Fire Emblem for the graphics – But if you’re going to worsen the game experience, you might as well spruce it up. Most of the game’s story is told using in game graphics and static cut scenes – It’s almost like a book with some gameplay thrown in. They DID add a few cutscenes with FMV and voice acting – which were well done. Some more of those would have been much more welcome.

Similarly, many of the characters from the previous title make a comeback in this game, which may give you more of a reason to care about them. Unfortunately, this game tries to fit in SO MANY characters, you end up not caring about any of them – They end up fighting eachother, you end up spending little time with each, some disappear and reappear, and some are just completely useless. And again, your team at the end of the game consists of roughly 50 characters, and you have to pick and choose 10 to bring into the “Endgame”, the most important part of any Fire Emblem title.

Speaking of the plot – It’s so awful. It’s hackneyed and clichéd, more or less an anti-war, pro-balance fable, it seems every major character is related somehow, and their paths cross 18 different ways. Every villain gives a 10 minute death speech before revealing some key piece of information (Usually admitting to being a part of someone’s family), and then the hero – who just realized he killed his first born son, heroically gets up and says, “Well that was messy.”.

I will say this, the series is fairly liberal with some openly homosexual characters and off color remarks, and there’s no sexism to be had – as most of the games powerful characters are females.

Also, the addition of the “Laguz” to the story greatly detracts from the overall experience. Central to the plot of the two games, Laguz are half men-half animal, which obviously appeals to the Japanese furry fetish market. In terms of gamplay, the Laguz units are unreliable because when they are used/attacked, they have a risk of being pushed from their stronger animal form to their weaker human form, so they need to be used with extra care and are more susceptible to random deaths. And because they wanted to fit in several animal times and tribes for the story, once again you end up dealing with lots of kingdoms and people you don’t care about.

Ok, an actual gameplay screenshot.

Ok, an actual gameplay screenshot.

To compare it, think of “classic” fantasy stories, such as The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Dragonlance, etc. These stories had let’s say, 3 books (obviously the expanded universe adds a lot more) which would take you maybe 20-30 hours to read all of. They focused on say, a core of 10 characters which you could get to know, relate to, and root for – care about. In this game, you get drops of 50, 60 characters – plus villains and enemies, it’s hard to keep everything straight, and harder still to give a damn about any of it.

And for a title where the story is central (You’ll spend as much if not more time reading character conversations than playing the game) this is a huge point. The rough presentation and the frustrating gameplay stand out much more when the story is miserable as well.

I had a FEW moments of fun, but they came way too late in the game and were far too spread out. I got in the habit of saying “Creeeeunch” whenever one of my stronger units would lay down the beats. That was enjoyable. One particular level in chapter four where I placed Ike in one spot that about 20 enemy reinforcements couldn’t pass was also enjoyable, as I watched every single one of them almost on the same turn run into Ike and get eaten. This was fun. But all in all, this game will go down as one of my worst gaming experiences of all time.

People may be saying, “So why did you play it?” Because that’s just the sort of moron I am. I had faith in the series, figured the game started out slow, and by the time I realized it wasn’t going to – I felt I had already put in so much time, that I had to see it through.

So that’s my story there.

That’s the thing about Fire Emblem though. If you already like the series, you’re going to play it regardless. If you HAVEN’T played the series, I would urge you to try out the Game Boy titles.

As a side rant, I think there should be an “Estimated Completion Time” on the back of game titles, so people can avoid making those sorts of time commitments.

Graphics:

The game primarily uses the ingame grid graphics, which are acceptable but inimpressive, and seems to be a follow up from the Gamecube title. Many of the plot elements are presented in a paperdoll fashion, which gets a little dull. Expect an Anime style presentation, and a “3D meets 2D” battlescene.

However, in another annoying convention: When you first start the game, the Full Battle animations are on – While these are interesting at first, they take a long time to load and are EXTREMELY repetitive, I would say increasing play time by an additional 1.5x. Anyone who plays this game for any length will turn them off, and stick to the map animations, which also – are a bit repetitive. Some of the Magic effects are KIND of cool, but again, this comes too late in the game and also results in the absurd visual scene of your mage calling down 86 glaciers from the heavens only to see “No Damage” flash up on the enemy.

When used, the few cutscenes are pretty decent. They are however far too rare and far apart.

Sound:

Turn based strategy games are not known for their sound, and this is no exception. Slight sounds for movement and combat, incuding whooshes and clangs of weapons. The voice acting is tolerable when it occurs, the narration is grating and slow. The music is pleasant enough.

Control:

While you can use the Wiimote, or Wiimote and Nunchuck, I strongly urge anyone who dares take on this title to use the classic controller. A gamecube controller can also be used. No special motion controls are present in the game.

Gameplay:

The core elements of the Fire Emblem series – the rock paper scissor combat with lengthy character progression and customization, is still here and accounted for. The particularly bad AI, the length of the game, the poor gameplay elements resulting in a difficultly level far too frustrating, and the incredibly lengthy story make the gameplay itself almost irrelevant.

What I liked:

  1. Well, if you take the time I played compared to the money I spent, I paid roughly 40 cents per hour for my “entertainment”. So… there’s that.
  2. I do like the IDEA of the game, and the potential. The variety in characters/skills  etc. is nice.
  3. The video cutscenes, when used, were nice.

What I didn’t like:

  1. Terrible terrible AI.
  2. Frustrating gameplay elements that led to random deaths and reloading. And reloading. And reloading. And reloading.
  3. 80 hours sunk into this unsatisfying title, including a 30 minute epilogue. I could have watched roughly 40 quality movies in this same timespan.

The Bottom Line:

“Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn” will go down as one of my worst gaming experiences of all time. I may not even try the DS title (Which has been dubbed Fire Emblem lite) because of it. I can’t find a reason to suggest it to anyone, and I hope that game lengths at some point get a looking at. 1 out of 5 stars.

I know I am in the minority here, because fans of the genre and series have already given the game high marks. But it may be blind support to the series they already love as opposed to the worthiness of the game.

Because I know fans of the series enjoy comparing Endgame teams, let the record show I used: Ike, Miciah, Sothe, Sanaki, Ena, Kurth (Forced), Rafiel (Heron), Harr, Gatrie, Geoffrey, Keirnan, Soren, Astrid, Tanith, Zhihark, Boyd, and Elincia. I find the versatility of the flying and mounted units to be instrumental, Tanith was the only close choice – it was almost Nephenee, but I already had a lance user in Gatrie, and I wanted an extra rescue/versatility option. If I had known that Shinon with the SS Bow would have gotten counterattack ability from in close, I may have fit him in there as well, though Astrid performed fine – and again, the movement was key. Being able to attack and move away is extremely helpful for getting back to the Heron.

fe end

The ending screenshot of the game. 80 hours of your life saved.

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