Sunday, 17 October 2010

Resource Hunting and Item Forging in RPGs: My proposal

In my previous review of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey I mentioned that hunting for forma which is used to create weapons, armour and items is hard. I actually like the idea of hunting for resources and combining them to form swords and items. A good game should allow a good balance of experimentation and discovery keeping the player interested rather than forcing the player to repetitively hunt for items.

What then would I consider an ideal system for hunting and forging? Well here's my list of good things a good forging game should have.

1) Automatic markers and identifiers - Once you've found the monster parts/resources, the game should make it easy to find these resources again through an auto bookmark system or good automapping system. It should not be up to the player to mark the map.
2) Automatic recording receipes or hints - Whenever you find a hint or part of receipe this should automatically be recorded in your receipe
3) Less resources the better - If you require 10 leather hides to make something it means the player have to fight monsters at least 10 times, I think the maximum requirements should be no more than 3 unique items for any receipe.

Proposed resource drop system
Here's a good system which mixes both elements of both random drops and yet allows players a choice of working towards their goals. I'm sure this has been done before by a couple of games although I personally can't recall exactly which games have has done this.

Whenever a player defeats a monster, you will gain item points of that monster. Gain enough item points and you can cash out for an item. Alternatively you can try gambling your currently item points to try and cash out for an item of a higher level.

E.g. A slime monster drops either a "slime item" the rarer "super slime item".

When you a defeat a slime monster you can choose to:
a) Get the Slime item
b) Get +10% chance of getting a super slime item
c) Try gambling for the super slime item.

This means after 10 battles you will definitely get the super slime item so there's a fairly clear target for the 'hard-working' player to aim for but if you're an impatient risk taker you could try gambling your points now to try and get your super slime now. I think this would work well as it reduces the uncertain in what you could get.

You could get more complicated by creating other bonuses and penalities depending on what the player chooses at the end of a battle but hopefully this gives you some idea of how you can mix and match both worlds and still get something quite reasonable and enjoyable. Being the hard working player that I am I would probably choose to constantly using the cash out option.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey - Game Design Review

Just finished this clocking in at 80 hours. I'm a big fan of Shin Megami Tensei fan even though I've only finished the first Shin Megami Tensei because the atmosphere and gameplay is different from your usual save the world fare, even if that's what you do in the end anyway. Warning, there are some spoilers below.

Some background about the SMT series. The gameplay is your usual dungeon crawl but with demons as enemies. Demons here includes to supernatural creatures such angels or monsters rather than specifically evil creatures. What makes it unique is your ability to converse and negotiate using your demon summoning program so you can actually convince them to give you items, macca (the money in the series), leave you alone or even join you. You also have an alignment (Law, Neutral and Chaos which determines how smoothly relationships go. As you can imagine, similarly aligned demons will treat you better than demons of an opposing alignment. In this game, you're part of a 4 vehicle investigation team entering a mysterious phenomena occurring in the Antarctic to try and stop it from growing. Unfortunately your vehicles are soon separated and you're forced to fight for survival in a mysterious demon-infested dimensions that mirror the world of humans.

Despite being a fan, I feel that Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey isn't a game to celebrate about. If you're a fan like me, you'll probably enjoy it but there are glaring issues with gameplay design and pacing really let it down. What worries me is that despite all the games inbetween the first SMT and now, the gameplay design has really evolved about half a step and taken a step back in some respects.

  • Storyline is linear and cliche for a Shin Megami Tensei game. There's the Law hero, the Chaos hero and then there's the Neutral Hero and its obvious who they are and what will happen eventually. The Chaos hero will continually talk about how powerless he is before being fused with a demon and becoming a half demon, the Law hero will be touched by the divine and become a messiah for the Law God or you can choose to follow the Neutral path and fight for humanity by defeating both sides.
  • The standard SMT plot twist of choosing the Law, Neutral or Chaos paths occur right at the end of the game and only for the final sector in the game meaning you have to replay the entire game just to unlock that different path. Why couldn't they have created several diverging paths through the game?
  • The storyline is certainly thought-provoking but I think it could have done more in some ways to express the issues a bit better, maybe with even more situations or plot development. Part of the plot revolves around another human expedition entering but only with profit in mind rather than saving humanity like your expedition which I thought was good and wondered if they could have done more of that instead. I think they killed off the other 3 ships and crew a bit too quickly rather than fully exploiting their story potential.
  • The game is very hard and can be quite punishing. Due to the hard difficulty there can be hours before any real plot development occurs.
  • Demons first appear as blue fuzzy images until you defeat them at least once and need to be repeated encountered or defeated or fused before you can get more info and increase your analysis. What I don't understand is when a skill is clearly weak against an enemy (it actually flashes the words 'weak'), why can't your system automatically record it down rather than requiring you to reach a certain analysis level?
  • The Demon source and skill inheritance system means you can create unique demons, however once fused, it becomes difficult hard to change demon skills. Demons may occasionally change skills when they level up but the skill they gain is random. You can actually use special demons to change skills and improve stats but it is still quite tricky as those special demons need to have skills you want to transfer. This is partially solved by the demon password system where you can share demons with their skills with other players.
  • Bosses are very annoying due to the rigid skill system, if you've accidentally set your demons to the wrong skills. Some people would say this adds to the challenge. I'm not one of those people.
  • In the game the Demon Co-op mechanic rewards players who choose demons of the same alignment as each other however nearly all the bosses and powerful enemies, which you can fuse after defeating them once, are Chaos and Neutral demons. I was playing as Law aligned player and felt penalised as a result. There aren't any actual party or fusion restrictions due to alignment like the older games but it makes Demon Co-op less powerful when it kicks in during battle.
  • There are several teleportation puzzles in the game but there's no record of which teleporters lead to which other ones. This particularly gets annoying when you have 6 or 7 rooms with 3 teleporters each.
  • In the game, you have to collect forma from enemies and the environment but what you get can be random. This annoying particular with rarer demons as it is hard to predict when they will appear. They will appear in the same places usually but sometimes you have to go through 15-20 encounters bfore they appear. What makes it worse is that sometimes you need 3 or 4 of the forma from them! Also taking to or defeating normal demons won't necessarily guarantee you get the forma as enemies can drop up to 3 different kinds of items. When you consider that you might be fighting groups of enemies that are made up of two or three kinds of demons, getting that forma you want can be frustrating.
  • You can dispose of forma and items in the lab to get more macca but its hard to know what forma is required to create certain weapons, armour or items unless you return back to the armour and weapons and items screen and scroll through carefully. It usually isn't an issue but some items use the same specific forma as weapons or armour.
  • Moon phases do affect your demon conversation but unfortunately the system wasn't transparent enough for me to understand. Would it be good if they actually covered that.
Overall, if you're a fan you'll definitely enjoy the game with about 300 demons to fuse and the mostly polished skill system. It is a solid game but the issues I mentioned mean only hard core RPG players who don't mind really working for their rewards will enjoy this game. Casual players should definitely stay away.

Probably a 5/10 overall or a 7/10 if you're a fan of the series.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Sam & Max + Strong Collection on Sale

There's a sale going down at Telltale games where you can get Strong Bad + All 3 Seasons of Sam & Max for.

If you already own them you can also get 3 seasons of Sam & Max for $20 or each season pack for just $9.95.

Really good bargain for those adventure game lovers!

I already own Sam & Max Season 1 on DVD and Strongbad so I'm probably going to purchase the 3 season pack to complete my collection. Although I think I'll be able to hold out for a Christmas sale or something. Maybe...

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Tales of Monkey Island Season 1 Review

I grabbed the entire season on the $5 special and managed to play through the entire season in about a week or so.

Overall I quite like the new season. For me, although I played the first Monkey Island when I was ten, I didn't really understand what I was doing (I used a hint book I borrowed from my cousin) nor the funny dialogue except for the sword insult fighting. So I replayed the first monkey island about a year back and played and finished the second after I did that. Monkey Island 2 in particularly seemed way hard than 1 and completely sucked the joy out of the game for me in many ways.

Is the humour of the new series comparable to the first two games? I think the tone of the games has changed a little from the original but overall it delivers the same sort of feel I got from the original games. I think the easier difficultly also made the game much more accessible and enjoyable for me.

The very awkward controls which have been covered enough by most reviewers so I'm not going to say too much about them.

Anyway, here's a short summary of what I thought of each episode (some minor spoilers):
Episode 1: Solid intro the series. Travelling around the jungle was a annoying. Overall okay but not great.

Episode 2: Disappointing episode compared to the rest. The siege itself was broken fairly easily. I was hoping for more excitement, more explosions and puzzles. The intro to Episode 2 sets up Morgan LeFlay as a major rival but she only makes an appearance at the beginning, in a number of cutscenes taking place in different locations from Guybrush and the end of the game. I think plot wise there could have been more interaction between her and Guybrush to make it more interesting.

Episode 3: Now this is what turned a solid series into an excellent series for me. Completely new location, new characters, Murray the talking demonic skull, interesting fresh puzzles and just overall more punch and interactio, especially the rivalry between Morgan and Guybrush.

Episode 4: A very fun episode would have been as good as episode 3 if not for the fact that you are back on the Flotsam island in the exact same environments again. Sigh. I also think the court room sequence could have been done in a more Phoenix Wright style to spice it up a bit. Otherwise it's pretty much a standard talking sequence in a single room. I actually quite enjoyed the maze sequences in this one and its a good example of mazes done right.

Episode 5: Overall good solid ending to the series. Reviewers commented that walking to each location when portals were open was annoying and I have to agree. Lots of good puzzles and overall solid ending very enjoyable but ends on a bit of a cliff hanger and lots of loose ends. Also, I think the underworld could have been a bit more interesting and detailed similar to Grim Fandango.


Overall a solid adventure game series which I enjoyed. As mentioned earlier, environments are a bit too repetitive and I personally think that Telltale seasons at 5 episodes a season is too short.

My favourite episodes in order of ranking are:
Episode 3 and 5 tied
Episode 4
Episode 1
Episode 2

If you're an adventure gamer I'm sure you'll be pleased. I bought it at US$5 and I certainly got my money's worth. I say a fair price would be around US$15.

I can't wait for Season 2!. It just can't come soon enough!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Resident Evil 2 - Windows XPTroubleshooting

LIke many have tried running Resident Evil 2 to on Windows XP I've had a great deal of trouble. Here are my solutions to overcoming the issues. All of this is based off forums I've visited.

Issue: Screwed up graphics. E.g. 2D backgrounds have black borders and 3D graphics not correct
This really depends on your graphics cards. I have an Nvidia card which works well with old games. Generally, try setting the graphics in the options to Voodoo or try it with different settings.

Issue: Game runs slowly
Not sure why this fixes it, but try running windows media player or classic media player if you have it. While its minimised, try running the game.

Issue: Game won't save and load
If you're trying to save and load games you MUST set the save directory to c:\RESIDENT EVIL2 which is the default apparently. Spacing is important as well. This is something to do with the way data is stored in Windows XP. Otherwise, the game won't recognise your save games.

Issue: Finished the game and now trying scenario B using the other character but movies and items are incorrect
If you've finished the game using one character, you will be prompted to save and when you load that save you will get to see the other character's version of the events.

Here's how I got around it:

1) You need to install the data of the other person's disc and run the game from the other person's disc. So insert the other person's disc and make sure the data is installed.

2) Next you need create a shortcut for the game to run it in Windows 95 Comtability. You need to use the shortcut from the CD. Navigate to the regis director and copy the short to the desktop, then from your desktop right click, go to the compatibility tab and select windows 95 mode. This step may or may not be required.

3) Run the game using the other person's disc. E.g. if you are playing Scenario B Leon, you must use the Leon CD. It should work now.

Issue: Game runs okay and then everything starts to slow down after some time playing. Also dying sequences and sequences with lights are fire are slow.
I think this has something to do with the way the 3D calculations are run when creating the 3D graphics. Try restarting the game. Unfortunately, I haven't really found a way around glowing lights or dying sequences being slow.

Some other things I've noticed:
Continuity - Scenario B puzzles and items don't match with Scenario A puzzles. E.g. you unlock the same doors/puzzles with the same keys/items in Scenario A. If indeed the other character was running around unlocking all the doors like in Scenario then these doors/puzzles wouldn't be locked/solved. This was clearly done to ensure there was actual gameplay in scenario B. The cutscenes and events in Scenario B generally match up.

Unlocking the special scenarios - There are suppose to be 2 additional scenarios in the game, an extra game featuring HUNK an Umbrella Operative and Tofu but the requirements are insane to get them requiring you to finish the game within like 2 hours and under 10 saves. Ouch. Frankly it requires too much effort.