Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Super Robot Wars Z2-1 final scenario

Want to take a look at Super Robot Wars? Sure you do. Take a look at this video of the final scenario of 2nd SRW Z Hakai-hen for the PSP. I've included a bit of text in the description to help explain what's going on. Much of SRW's strategy revolves around seishins (spirit commands) that have various effects from buffs to heals to debuffs.

The first scenario objective is to destroy the two SW and SE flying bosses and the battleship to the north. My units are in position with the right parts equipped to make sure they can start attacking their targets right away. I get them down to about 1/2 health on turn 1, then try to evade/defend during enemy phase. On turn 2 I finish them off and trigger the final boss Gaioh (lv 99). To weaken the boss I use exhaust, analyze, and a 2 unit surround bonus. I then use Zero buffed Shin Getter with lots of hope/enable/supply to repeatedly attack Gaioh. Gaioh has an attack that halves a units stats so I need to keep flash/alert up as well. I end the scenario with a few hope/enable to spare, but not much!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Windows 8 impressions. The start menu is still better.

Windows 8 has launched, and I've been meaning to reply to the many claims around the net that the start menu is outdated and inferior and the start screen is a better replacement, and that anyone who doesn't agree is an idiot or a Luddite. I'm sorry, but that's BS. The start screen should be okay for your average Windows user, but the start menu is still more efficient and contains more features for accessing, organizing, and managing shortcuts. The start screen leaves Windows power users out in the cold.

On accessibility and organizing. There are no sub folders on the start screen or ways to tag or label programs. You can throw them into groups and give the group a name, but groups are highly limited in customization. There is no way to rearrange groups alphabetically or any way to resize the grid dimensions of a group. It's easier to launch programs by keyboard on the start menu. The start screen covers the entire screen, while the start menu is obviously much less obtrusive.

You have to dig through a dual desktop/metro program's settings to make sure it launches in desktop mode from the start screen, otherwise it will launch as a metro app. And if the program doesn't have a setting, like the current version of Chrome? You're screwed - it will always launch as a metro app from the start screen.

I know which one I'd rather use.
 Things get really hairy when it comes to managing shortcuts. There is no context menu access from the start screen or apps list. Right clicking a shortcut gets you an extremely limited number of options. You have to go to the ironically named "C:\Users\x\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu" folder to do any management or creation of shortcuts that the apps list uses. Almost any shortcut management you can think of can be done directly inside the start menu itself, while managing start screen shortcuts is cumbersome and complex. This is a serious issue for power users that need context menu access to manage and organize their shortcuts.

They couldn't be bothered to rename the folder from Start Menu to Start Screen, I suppose.
The "apps list" will end up being even more of a mess than the start menu as it's more difficult to find an unpinned shortcut in a flat apps list than it is in an alphabetized list of folders in the start menu. Since you can't directly organize the apps list, it will eventually become a huge mess just like an unmanaged start menu. Two layers of shortcuts (the apps list and the start screen) is a bandaid on the problem of shortcuts accumulating as you install new programs. Hiding the mess and not letting the user manage it only makes things worse. I want to be able to manage the apps list such as renaming, creating, and deleting shortcuts just like I can on the start menu.

If you install a new program that doesn't auto-pin itself to the start screen, you will need to go digging through the apps list to find it. Good luck if you forgot the name of a shortcut you wanted to pin. Power users that want to properly manage their shortcuts will have to perform double duty, both making sure that the "...Windows\Start Menu" folder isn't a mess and making sure their start screen is organized and pinned.

Good luck managing or even finding your shortcuts with the apps list.

As for the start screen showing you news, messages, e-mails, weather, and other live feeds or info? Windows already has that, they're called gadgets. Oh wait, MS gutted that feature as well. I'd also like to note that you can search from the start menu just like the start screen, it's not a new feature.

Now the start menu is obviously not perfect. One of its main issues is that you need to move the mouse to the corner/edge of the screen to reach your programs. A good solution would be to allow the start menu to activate from the position of the mouse cursor, much like a context menu. There is a launcher program called SyMenu that functions in this manner, appearing at the position of the mouse cursor, although it isn't very user friendly.

In my opinion MS gutted the start menu to force people to get familiar with its tablet interface, while coming up with a chorus of flimsy excuses that a lot of ignorant article writers on tech sites are parroting without question. I've seen many sanctimonious dismissals that don't address any of the points I've made, while offering up condescension and insults.

Finally, there are issues with Windows 8 itself. The charms bar is more or less useless to desktop users, same with the other mouse edge shortcuts - of course you can't turn any of it off. Advanced Appearance Settings and Aero transparency have both disappeared. The restart/shutdown commands and other commonly accessed start menu commands are ridiculous to access via the mouse. If you're running Win 8 and want the start menu back, I recommend Classic Shell. There are also programs out there that will let you boot directly to desktop and remove all of the edge shortcuts like the charms bar.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Quick Frontline Tactics impressions..

Frontline Tactics is now out on Steam. I gave it a couple hours, which is pretty generous for a free to play game. It's a mostly bare bones turn based tactical cover shooter. Turn based cover shooters are getting a semi-revival with the release of Battle Academy, the new X-Com and the many X-Com clones. The underlying combat mechanics of FT are solid, but there are interface and design issues that hamper what should be a simple but effective turn based cover shooter.

It's obvious the interface was designed for the iPad and ported to PC with very limited keyboard support. I'd like to have more keyboard support, especially for the 'speedup' button that accelerates combat animations.

Frontline Tactics suffers from more "hide the info" syndrome that almost always backfires on the developer. You usually can't tell which enemy is who on the turn order list, even if you click on their names in the turn order list. HP values are totally hidden, which leads to enemies with 1-2 HP left even though the entirety of the health indicator was flashing, misleading me into thinking that they should have died.

You can't see anybody's sight range or any kind of 'fog of war' indicator, so it's very difficult to tell who can see who. It's very hard to see what parts of the terrain are cover, or which parts of the terrain block line of sight/fire.

Those are the least of FT's problems, though. As a free to play game, FT gives you access to very few initial maps, gear, and soldiers. Every time you win 5 battles, you unlock prizes like access to new maps, new game modes, extra soldier slots, or funds. This ridiculously slow pace, combined with the tiny amount of initially unlocked maps, means you'll be playing the same set of maps over and over dozens of times to unlock new stuff. It quickly turns into a bland and boring grind where all I was doing was mowing down endless waves of soldiers trying to unlock the next map or whatever. You can't even spend real money to unlock things faster! I thought that was the point of a free to play game?

You'll also need to grind for funds to improve your soldiers gear and abilities, although you can spend real money on funds. It's a double edged sword, though - enemies will improve their arsenal right along with you. Once you bring a new soldier with an assault rifle, sniper rifle, etc., enemies will start bringing the same weapons. Once you bring a soldier with body armor, they get body armor. This can escalate quickly to the point where if you choose your upgrades poorly, enemies will start to far outmatch your squad.

Some of the game modes are very imbalanced. Survival is pretty much impossible to win until you have a substantially sized squad decked out with body armor, medics, and defensive abilities, otherwise they'll get cut down before you can even give them orders to do anything. It was kind of sad taking my 3 man squad into a survival mission and watching two of them die before I could issue any orders at all. And no, the last guy didn't survive the 20 turns required to win the mission.

Combine the two factors of scaling enemies and lopsided game modes and it's possible to reach a point in the game where every mission is extremely difficult or impossible to complete. You can avoid this by carefully choosing which modes to unlock and which gear to bring, but I would hardly call it a balanced game. Or you can pony up real money to get around the roadblock. I was smart enough to not run into this problem after noticing early on that the enemy's gear improves with mine, but I can see it happening to plenty of hapless players.

But even if you avoid those pitfalls, the game itself is monotonous. In 7 hours of mowing down enemies I was barely using any different strats than the start of the game. I would have liked to earn more points for finishing a mission more quickly, in addition to having all soldiers alive. Give it a try if you want, but expect to get bored quickly even if you get the hang of it. I haven't tried the multiplayer but maybe it's more entertaining than the base game. Although you're going to have to play single player or spend money regardless to get funds to improve your soldiers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Oct 2012 News (X-Com?!)

It's been a very X-Com month. I've put about 80 hours into X-Com: Enemy Unknown and wrote a review for extremegamer.ca. There are a few nitpicky technical mistakes I made in there, but my points still stand.

New X-Com DLC announced. 3 new missions with "new mechanics" and a recruitable "hero soldier". No word on mod support yet, hopefully Firaxis gets it done for PC gamers.

Hey look at all these X-Com clones. They're multiplying!

Frontline Tactics trailer. Frontline Tactics is a PC/Mac/iOS turn based cover shooter with a modern military theme. Amazingly, instead of shooting aliens with plasma guns, you shoot other people with real life military weapons.

Check out Rui Castro's twitter for some extra tactics game news.

A new Disgaea game called Disgaea D2 has been announced. It's arriving on PS3 on 3/20/2013 in Japan. You can expect a NA localization at some point in the future. I don't expect it to diverge much from the rest of the series. Nippon Ichi also confirmed that Disgaea 5 is still in development.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is coming to Europe on Q2 2013, presumably ahead of NA.

More Panzer Corps DLC available.

Rainbow Moon port announced for Vita.

Translation patch for 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Saisei-hen.

New 2nd Super Robot Wars OG (PS3) screenshots.

4 myths overheard about X-Com

I've heard quite a lot of misinformed statements around the internet with the launch of X-Com: Enemy Unknown. Here are 4 myths I'd like to address:

1. The tactics genre is dead or dying. X-Com is reviving the genre!

The genre has been going strong for years for anyone interested in tactics games for their mechanics and strategic play, not the size of their graphics budget or how many sales charts they top. There are more appealing tactics games being released each year than I can manage to play. And I surely hope not every tactics game in the future plays like X-Com: Enemy Unknown. While it's a decent cover shooter with an interesting strategic layer, its tactical combat lacks depth and variety and is hampered by bugs and control issues.

2. X-Com is a relatively fast paced and responsive game.

See Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, SRW, Front Mission, Elven Legacy, Battle Academy, and many other other tactics games with responsive controls and the ability to speed up or skip combat animations. Most missions on X-Com EU classic/impossible difficulty involve camping behind cover trying to pull one enemy group at a time or slowly inching forward along the edge of a map or building. I often spent more time camping or inching around the map than engaging in combat. Does that sound fast paced or action packed to you?

3. The X-Com controller is faster/more efficient than the mouse/keyboard.

It's a fact that the mouse/kb controls allow a player to input commands more quickly and efficiently. If you can't manage to move 6 units from point A to B faster with the mouse/kb than with the sluggish, inertia-laden analog dot that literally crawls along the ground, you're doing something wrong. I've never had any issue using the mouse to control grenade and rocket trajectories, either. That's not to say that the mouse controls are perfect. The mouse struggles with UFO interiors that have overlapping height layers, but still manages to come out ahead by far.

4. Using saves on a non-ironman run is "cheating".

If the game code allows it, it's not cheating. If someone doesn't check ironman mode at the start of the game, they're free to make and reload from as many saves as they like. Ironman mode was developed specifically to prevent save game reloads - use it and enjoy. What is cheating is playing on ironman mode while making "backup saves" outside of the game, or force quitting before the game autosaves. And don't think I haven't seen you doing it!