Thursday, March 15, 2012

Are you sure you're really a fan of turn based tactics games? A rant approaches!

My Tactics Ogre review continues to generate attention, bringing out the usual ad hominems, logical fallacies, and lack of coherent arguments. All of that is old hat, of course. What really drew my interest were people claiming that that turn based tactics games are their favorite genre, yet they apparently dislike strategy. That's about as illogical as claiming that you love soccer, but hate kicking things. The ability to calculate and respond to a tactical situation, aka strategy, is the defining element of the turn based tactical level genre, as much as it is in video game as it is in Chess.

And from a GFaqs post: "There are valid points about the lack of strategy ... There are so many positives in the game though so I wouldn't let it put you off,this is for me the best srpg I have played." So wait, the best SRPG to this guy is the one lacking in strategy? How does that even make sense?

Here's an example in the Destructoid review of Devil Survivor 2. "Even with this being my favorite genre ... I quit out of rage so many times that I lost count. Much of this has to do with unforgiving victory conditions that that will have you turning your demon inventory inside out trying to find a solution, with some battles requiring a very precise combination of demons or abilities to complete, almost as if the battles themselves were to serve as cruel puzzles."

The puzzle-like strategy nature of turn based tactics games is the entire point of the genre! And really, Devil Survivor 2's strategies are hardly as difficult as the reviewer claims. Most missions and bosses can be brute forced by a magic main character spamming elemental dances or a physical main character spamming skills like berserk or multi-strike. Whatever he was doing, he clearly didn't get it, nor does he get the point of strategy games in the first place. On the upside, though, he does admit that there is no "need for grinding".

So how is it that these people are making such claims? I think they are simply misinformed. If they don't like strategy, they don't like turn based tactical level strategy games, and it most certainly isn't "their favorite genre". What they actually like are genres that are stripped of difficulty and turned into meaningless, easy, and time consuming sandboxes by which they can carry out power tripping fantasies with powers or units of their choosing.

I'm sure if Devil Survivor 2 had a super easy mode and he could steamroll Devil Survivor 2 with a team of busty succubus demons or whatever he liked, he'd be singing its praises. This can happen to just about any genre, but RPG-like games are particularly vulnerable because they are already one leg deep into the plot and experience of a game being of equal or more importance than its gameplay or skill measurement, making easy and grind heavy sandbox games like FFT and TO a short jump away.

I'm also appaled at people who claim that combat speed or user interfaces don't matter. For example, "I can't say I agree with your cons either (lack of easy mode, poor UI and slow combat animation; I don't think these are legitimate complaints." as a response to my Devil Survivor 2 review. Combat speed is definitely an issue, both to highly skilled players who don't want to sit through boring animations, and to players turned off by the sluggish pace of turn based games in general. There should always be a speedup or skip option for people who don't want to sit through animations.

The user interface is the main way the player controls the game, and a poor UI can be as bad to a tactics game as a poor camera, poor aiming, and poor response time can be to an action game. SRPGs and tactics games get a bad rap for being slow, cumbersome, overly complex, and confusing, so combat speed and UI issues are among the most important areas to improve if the tactics genre wants to expand its audience.

But as a recent example of how ignorant gamers can be, look no further than the recent Mass Effect 3. No, I'm not referring to the large scale revolt over the Mass Effect 3 endings, but the relatively smaller issue of not being able to earn enough "Effective Military Strength", represented by military forces committed to fighting for you, to earn the best ending without either playing multiplayer matches or playing an iPhone app. According to datamined files, the max EMS score you can get without multiplayer or iPhone apps is very close to 3750, while the amount required is 4000 points.

This hasn't stopped legions of ignorant posters or trolls all over the internet claiming that it's possible, and that we're bad for not being able to figure it out. It doesn't help that there are pirated versions floating around with modified game files that alter the points awarded. This kind of bold and brazen ignorance and wrongness is common not just from rank and file gaming forum posters and detractors of my Tactics Ogre review, but by game reviewers who make false claims like "you need to grind in this game to progress" and should know better.

March 2012 News #1

04/19 [3DS] [JP] [P] [1] [2] Fire Emblem: Kakusei / Fire Emblem: Awakening

Lots of Fire Emblem: Awakening news, which is helpfully summed up at Serenes Forest. It seems "rare items" will be paid DLC, which doesn't surprise me. As Nintendo's first game with paid DLC, a lot of eyes will be watching how they handle it.

It's looking very RPG-like at this point, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when you factor in the DLC, grinding, and whatever else they're throwing in to destabilize the difficulty level, I have my doubt that a scoring system or difficulty mode is going to be able to save this game from the fate of most RPGs.

04/05 [PSP] [JP] [P] [1] 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Saisei-hen

New screenshots.

Extensive Famitsu online article.

I'm sort of interested the medals (achievements) being added. That's on top of skill points, and possibly difficulty modes. I don't really think throwing in so many scoring systems is a good idea, as it tends to dilute the gameplay with players pulled in so many different directions, and some scoring mechanics may not work well with others, forcing an either/or choice on which measurement to focus on.

TBA [PC] [NA] [1] MechWarrior Tactics

New screenshots.

Joystiq article.

1up article.

Not much to say about MechWarrior Tactics yet. It's an online multiplayer focused game with microtransactions.

03/17 [DS] [JP] [P] [1] Pokemon + Nobunaga’s Ambition

Famitsu article.

New gameplay trailer.

Fall [PC] [NA] [1] X-COM: Enemy Unknown

Let it be known that I hate the western developer interviews where they get uncomfortably close to the developers face, talking about how great and amazing their game is like they've been drafted into the marketing department. Nothing good comes out of these kind of marketing videos, and there are a few quotes displaying yet again that the developers don't have a firm grasp on the genre they're trying to develop a game for.

"The core principles that we wanted to build on was basically... everything." Oh yes, that's very helpful. You should have gotten marketing to write you better lines. In any case, they're fans of the original, but they're changing just about everything about the game except the basic plot and mission structure. Oh wait, they are changing the mission structure - the terrain is no longer randomized. I wouldn't be surprised that by the end of development it'll be a WEGO game where both the player and enemy move and attack at the same time, either.

"I've played just about every turn based strategy game out there." This is just a vastly ignorant claim given the hundreds of tactical level turn based games out there. Dunning-Kruger in effect right here. And by some odd chance he's played "just about" every game on the list here at Tactical Insights, please let me know and I'll eat my hat.

On the "cinematic camera approach", I wonder if they'll be so obtuse as to force you to watch all the animations and not skip them. I am sensing a level of developer vanity and hubris that's leaning towards unskippable animations.

"Why don't we make [the player's base] like an ant-farm?" Jee, I don't know, maybe because it looks ugly as sin, is extremely difficult for the player to distinguish one section of the base from another, and is probably awfully inefficient to manage and scroll around? It's nice to try something new, but this should have been left by the water cooler, not put into the game.

At best, this new X-Com is going to be a functional but bland squad based tactics game, and at worst well.. the sky's the limit, really.

 06/24 [Browser] [JP] [1] Onimusha Soul

Onimusha Soul is a new tactics game coming to browsers and cell phones in Japan. No relation to the rather bad and bland Onimusha Tactics for GBA, which was localized in NA.

Summer [PC] [NA] [1] Civilization V: Gods and Kings Expansion

The Civ V expansion is shaping up to be a solid addition to a good game. While it's not strictly a tactical level game, a lot of the combat plays out in a tactical style on a hex grid, which is why I'm continuing to cover it.

Here's an interesting article: Computer program coded to develop games.

So I just posted a review of Mass Effect 3. I'm playing through Tales of Graces F and might write a review of it. Two big games are arriving next month, Fire Emblem: Awakening and Super Robot Wars Z-2. I'll definitely review Super Robot Wars Z-2, but I don't think I can afford a Japanese 3DS for Fire Emblem: Awakening, sorry. And I'm afraid there's no way I'm touching that Pokemon x Nobunaga game.

Mass Effect 3 (PC) Review

Mass Effect 3 is the end to the action RPG Mass Effect trilogy, and represents the shift from Bioware to EA/Bioware. While it's an improvement over ME2, it continues to hang on to old flaws and manages to pick up a few new ones along the way.

ME3's combat is a mixed bag. Combat is an improvement over ME2 in terms of enemy and location variety. You're not mowing down the same rows of color coded mercs or boring collectors, and there's more power customization available. Cerberus, geth, and reaper enemies all have different abilities and strategies to deal with, although I think they should have gotten access to more. Where are the enemy biotics or enemies that use high level tech powers like in ME1 for example? The lack of boss fights is disappointing, as well. Fight locations are no longer obvious and boring horizontal rows of cover as in ME2, so there's a bit more variety. However, fights do tend to consist of long waves of the same enemy types, which might grow tiring. Even with the improvements to ME3's combat, it's still a second rate cover shooter compared to the best of the genre, and barely makes the "passable" mark.

Unfortunately, the combat controls are about as bad as before, mainly due to the horrible decision to map run and cover to the same button. It's made worse by the presence of enemy grenades or flanking tactics that will force you to run out of cover, only to inadvertently cling to another nearby section of a wall and end up dying. This sort of horrible control decision was infuriating in ME2 and it's infuriating now. I don't care what reason they came up with to force this control scheme on PS3 or 360 users, but there's no excuse for the PC version with its expansive keyboard controls. On a minor note, the squadmade move and attack commands are mapped to the same button, meaning that if you have an enemy autotargeted (forget about manual target switching), you can't actually order your squadmates to move someplace, as they'll be ordered to attack the current autotarget instead. Bizarrely, there is a button for "Squadmate Attack" and "Squadmate Move/Attack" but not "Squadmate Move", which makes absolutely no sense from a control or design perspective.

Moving on to the plot, again the results are mixed. Unlike ME2, you aren't running a lot of inconsequential side quests to solve your teammates daddy or family issues, and the side quests are a little more substantial. The main story quests are certainly better, providing major consequences for your actions in attempting to unite the races of the galaxy. Unlike a lot of upset gamers, I am not particularly bothered by the ending. Yes, it's full of plot holes and unexplained sequences, and most of your decisions have no bearing on how the game ends, but I'd probably be more annoyed at an ending where you get to see your favorite aliens and allies all live happily ever after.

The overall Mass Effect plot as it's revealed, though, is sci-fi junk food. Apparently the reaper "harvesting" has been going on for millions of years every 50k years, meaning untold numbers of civilizations were harvested, yet the galaxy isn't a heaping junkyard filled with the remnants of such civilizations. Not to mention that 50k years is far too short for new intelligent life to develop. It took billions of years here in real life on Earth to reach that point. This is endemic of hard sci-fi wannabe writers who think adding a bunch of factually implausible zeroes to their backstory makes their shoddy plot more impacting or dramatic.

The original Mass Effect felt reserved and a bit Star Trek-ish, focusing on the morality around new technologies, while ME2 and ME3 are more concerned with emulating a Michael Bay movie. The additions of Diana Allers and James Vega are endemic of the rot setting into Bioware, obsessed with monetization, Mary Sues, and focus group oriented marines to appeal to the shooter crowd. The little boy's death in the intro to the game and the resulting dream sequences are cynical hollywood manipulation at its worst, even if you believe the speculation that there's more to it than it appears. Kai Leng as a major villian is another absurd addition, screaming "let's add cool ninjas to the game!" rather than any sort of consistency or refrain. Asimov, Clarke, and Scott Card this aint.

Bioware has cynically tried to maximize their profit from ME3 at a level far beyond post-launch DLC. Despite what the developers claim, the day 1 DLC From Ashes is an integral part of ME3 and its backstory with its Prothean companion. This isn't like Zaeed who had a minor role at best. From Ashes gives you several lengthy cutscenes showing the time of the Prothean empire, for example. Having played both a default New Game and an imported ME2 game with all survivors, it's ridiculous how much content you miss out on by not owning ME2. You miss out on not just most of the ME2 roster, but on several major story choices. The memorial wall on the Normandy is about to run out of space by the time you're near the end of a default ME3 game even if you do your best to keep people alive. Not to mention that starting ME3 at an imported level 30 makes most of the game significantly easier. I would go so far as to say that having ME2 is a requirement to experience a significant amount of ME3's content.

Online multiplayer is required to raise your Effective Military Score to the point where you can get the best ending. The online multiplayer is second rate cover shooter co-op with a microtransaction store. It was clearly added to further monetize the Mass Effect franchise rather than out of a need or demand for such a mode. It has no longevity to it, quickly gets very boring, and will be swiftly abandoned, despite the cynical attempts to force gamers into playing it to get the best ending.

Say you've got the 360 version - you'll need ME2, ME3, From Ashes, and an Xbox Live Gold subscription to get the complete ME3 experience and best ending. And of course if you buy your ME3 used, be prepared to pay for an online pass so you can play multiplayer to raise your Effective Military Strength so you can see the best ending. All told, you'll probably end up spending about $100 just to experience most of ME3's content, not even considering ME1, the ME2 DLC like Zaeed or Kasumi or purchases in the ME3 multiplayer online store. ME3 is a prime example of monetizing excess that is consuming the big budget game industry and EA/Activision in particular.

When factoring in the monetization, combat, and plot issues, there are quite a lot of problems with Mass Effect 3. It's a decent game when considering the positives, but there are far too many flies in the ointment to call it a good or even great game. Unfortunately it seems EA/Bioware will continue its terminal decline as its bean counters and consolized controls and awful writers tear the development teams apart.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (DS) Review

My review of SMT: Devil Survivor 2 is up on Take a look.

I gave it an 8/10, and I think it's a solid and fun tactics game, if a bit too easy to break with a magic heavy main character. Normally I like to grade games based on 5/10 being an average score, but since extremegamer is picked up by metacritic, I have to fall in line and grade based on 7/10 being an average score.