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“Se7en Favorite Gaming Moments in 2010” or “Yes I Know This Post is Late, Shut Up!”

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Note: I know this post is very late, but hey, I started putting it together about two weeks back and constantly got sidetracked. The following are some gaming moments in 2010 that had me sit back and just marvel at the developers for putting together such incredible set-pieces.

Mass Effect 2 – The Ending Sequence

Despite a lackluster final-boss (what the hell was that all about anyway?), the ending of Mass Effect 2 was one of the greatest moments crafted in any game ever made. Granted the final cut-scene had zero input from the player, but you could see all of your actions over the course of the game reflected in that sequence. The fate of your teammates, crew-mates, and even your own survival would be revealed in a cut-scene that was crafted out of the very choices you made throughout the game. The final cacophony that leads to Shepard’s breathtaking leap of faith was the icing on the cake. Topped with a stellar musical score and superb dialogue, the ending of Mass Effect 2 continues to live on in memory as one of the most powerful video game endings in history. I had goosebumps!

World of Warcraft – Killing the Lich King

Nearly eight years in the making, the final blow to the Lich King was a triumphant moment in 2010. Even since his betrayal at Stratholme, and subsequent departure from humanity, every Warcraft fan prayed for the day when we would stand toe-to-toe with the arch-villain and sink in his fine-honed blades. Now I didn’t get to experience the moment on my main character, and I wasn’t there for the three week struggle against the fight that led to the eventual kill, but the moment was nevertheless cathartic. We had killed Arthas, and all was right with the world.

Little did we know…

StarCraft II – Fight To The Death

StarCraft II had very intelligent missions. I don’t think I have ever played a pure RTS where I never felt like I was playing an RTS. Allow me to explain. StarCraft II, for all intents and purposes, is a true RTS. You collect resources. You build a base. You pump units. You annihilate the other side. However, despite the fact that you do this in nearly all missions, each mission felt different and played out in a distinctly different tone. In each mission there is some gimmick or some additional obstacle that you must overcome to advance, and the RTS underpinnings are silently turning in the background, almost as if you aren’t even playing an RTS. When the truth of the matter is that you are playing an RTS all along! Do you see? Oh forget it! One of the most memorable moments in 2010 was a Protoss mission.

SPOILER START.

This is the final Protoss mission, a vision of the near-future where all intelligent life in the universe is being systematically annihilated. The Protoss make their last stand, with the Zerg pouring into a massive base from all directions. Your job as a player however, is not to win. Your job is to lose. You need to hold out the assault for some time, but eventually it will overwhelm you no matter how you do it, and then you need to fight till the last Protoss is alive, including the most iconic figureheads of the enigmatic race. The winning condition, you see, is to fight till the last Protoss and this eventually lose the base. That is awesome. I had a blast in that mission, and I had adrenaline pumping through my veins as I tried strenuously, albeit foolhardily, to stand my ground. Well done Blizzard, well done indeed!

SPOILER END.

Red Dead Redemption – Rescue my Wife

Red Dead Redemption was a jewel in the gaming line-up of 2010.

I am riding on my horse down the dirt-path carved into the terrain by frequent travelers. I am minding my own business, on my way to meet a new contact who goes by the name of Irish. I am contemplating if I should just fast-travel to the location; in retrospect, I am glad I didn’t exercise that option. You’ll see why in just a second. Suddenly, I hear someone in the distance say:

“Please sir, would you help me? They’ve taken my wife!”

I pause, wondering if this was a mission marker that I missed on my map. The rider who has sought my help turns up as a blue circle on my mini-map. As I contemplate my response to this stranger’s query, he simply takes off in one direction, eager to get to his wife. As the blue circle grows distant, I get a message on my screen suggesting I follow the rider. I think a second longer and decide to follow the poor guy, and see what this random encounter has in store for me.

The man rides at top speed down bushy knolls and grass highlands for a little bit, and then he stops short of a posse of hooligans. His wife sits atop a horse, with a noose around her neck. Before I can even so much as gauge the situation, a firefight breaks out. I take out my trusty Winchester Repeater, and over the next few seconds, gun down the three perpetrators.

Then I realize I was too slow. They have already killed the husband, who lays crumpled next to his dead horse. I look over at the wife. The shooting has scared off the horse atop which she sat, and she is hanging from the tree branch. I panic. I run over to her increasingly limp body, but even as I am closing the distance I get a message on-screen that says matter-of-factly: “The victim has died.”

I am utterly devastated. Had I been a few seconds faster, both in the decision to follow the man and in the shootout, I could have saved their lives. I know they are digital beings in an artificial world, but the sense of loss is still palpable.

I came across this encounter a second and then a third time. The second time I ignored it altogether, because it was late and I just wanted to finish one last story mission before calling it a night. The third time I immediately followed the man, this time to a different location, with the kidnappers using a cart as cover, and the wife already hanging. I managed to save the husband, but the wife perished. The husband collapsed at the hanging, limp body of his wife and wailed.

A few things to remember:

  • The mission was completely optional
  • If you chose to take on the quest, you simply followed the husband, there was no mission log to keep track of the mission, and no prompt saying that you were now on this mission. In fact, you could abandon course at any point and just go your way if you so chose.
  • There were multiple outcomes: you could save both husband and wife; you could save just the wife; you could save just the husband
  • In any of the scenarios above, you weren’t penalized for failing (unless you take into account being emotionally penalized); if you failed, that family was dead, you were responsible for it, and there was nothing you could do to change that

A living breathing world indeed.

Lord of the Rings Online – The Joy of Deeds

In 2010, I also returned to LOTRO, after a brief stint with the original beta and a briefer stint with the live game. The game seems to be much more streamlined and the option to play for free is extremely tempting. After finishing the starter area for elves, I was questing near a lake when something popped up on my screen: “New Deed Unlocked”, it said. I was confused. Since I had not played the game in so long, I had no idea what they were talking about. When I looked it up, I realized how that tied into Turbine Points, and how much I actually enjoyed the idea of pursuing deeds to not only earn rewards, but also Turbine points for the store. As I have mentioned on a few occasions, I have a penchant for completing every last objective, title, achievement and knick-knack a game throws my way, so the discovery of deeds was a very joyous moment for me.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood – My First Kill Streak


The third major installment in the series featured several improvements over the previous iteration, the most significant of which was offensive combat. Instead of sitting there with the block button pressed, you could actually attack offensively at will, and killing an opponent allowed you to unlock chain-killing enemies in rapid succession. When I first came across this ability, I couldn’t figure it out. The in-game prompt, and even websites where other people had posted their frustrations with the mechanic, suggested that I press LS to kill the next victim. I took me a whole week to realize that “press L2” does not equal “press L2 down”. You simply had to swivel the stick in direction of the opponent you wanted take out next, preferably close by, and then execute. The first time I accidentally figured this out was during a rescue mission where you engage a large army of guards to buy Catarina Sforza some time to get away. That first kill streak was orgasmic, because once I figured it out, I took out over 30 guards in a series of quick, fluid and outright sexy maneuvers without having to play defensively.

Alan Wake – The First Miniboss

Alan Wake was not on my top list for games in 2010, mostly because the game became too formulaic with its gimmicks after the first hour or two. That being said, it had some truly eerie and at times downright creepy moments. One of these moments was the final ‘boss fight’ at the end of Chapter One. This was the being that zipped around at a frightening speed, only to stop a mere few feet from you, when your eyes haven’t even adjusted to the sudden change in momentum, and attack! That was a terrifying encounter, and set the mood for several of the following hours of gameplay. Aside from Dead Space, that is the only game to date that truly shivers me timbers!

That’s my list, what were your favorite gaming moments in 2010?

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“Se7en Favorite Games of 2010” or “Sheppard Plants Assassins Northrend Explosions Protoss Bada-Bing-Bada-Boom!”

January 3, 2011 3 comments

Note: Sorry this is a day late, I got caught up in some work stuff / my cat swallowed a hairball / my dog ate my blog post.

2010, much like everything else in life, had it’s ups and downs. The gaming industry continues to grow, and with growth comes more variety and better quality games. On the flip-side terrible games also stick out like sore thumbs when juxtaposed against lauded AAA titles. All in all, I had a blast in 2010 playing video games, and despite some fairly horrid titles, botched reboot attempts, and sub-par production values in some otherwise solid titles, I was quite pleased with what the industry had to offer.

I didn’t play as many MMOs in 2010 as I did in the years prior. I quit Eve Online. I finally said goodbye to World of Warcrft, despite a stellar new expansion (I was in the beta). I started dabbling into LOTRO and realized it was a completionist’s wet-dream, and I have been having a blast on my novice Elf Hunter (yes, I know that race/class combo is real original). I tried out Perpetuum and was turned off by how similar it was to Eve Online in terms of systems, UI and looks, and how much it paled in comparison in actual execution. I also tried my hands at World of Tanks, a game that really took a lot to get used to, and so far it hasn’t been entirely disappointing. SynCaine’s ramblings finally made me cave in to Darkfall and I have been getting my ass kicked ever since. But all things considered, I spent the least amount of time with MMOs in 2010, especially when you contrast that against 2-6 hour daily sessions with World of Warcraft and EvE Online in prior years.

At any rate, the following are my favorite games of 2010, in no particular order:

Mass Effect 2

What a stellar experience this game was. I found myself thinking of the game weeks after I finished it, always intrigued by what could have happened if I had played a particular fight with another set of allies using different tactics. Mass Effect 2, of all the games I have played in 2010, had the most powerful ending I have experienced in a video game, despite a terrible “final boss” fight and holes in the story regarding the final set pieces. Mass Effect 2 gave me goosebumps, and I am ever thankful to BioWare for making such a fantastic title. It speaks volume for a title that has quite a few flaws, but those flaws completely pale in comparison to the rest of the package.

Related posts:

Starcraft II

This game is the primary reason my MMO habits suffered so greatly in 2010. (The other reason being a lack of interesting MMOs to play in 2010 – just my opinion, disagree all you want). Twelve years in the making, this title had the kind of hype that eventually leads to inflated expectations, which, inevitably deflate with rancid disappointment because no title can live up to such high hopes. Starcraft 2, however, shocked fans and critics alike when it launched, not only meeting, but in some cases exceeding expectations. Couple this with the fact that the title shipped with no LAN support despite resounding disagreement from the core fan base, and that this is only a third of a trilogy that will be released over several years, and still the title did so well both commercially and critically. The single player campaign was phenomenal, and there was a hardly a mission where I felt like I was playing an RTS. It was immersive, innovative, the missions were varied and featured a plethora of objectives for you to accomplish and the production values were incredible. It took me nearly 40 hours to get through the single-player portion of the game. But the multiplayer is where I find myself losing hours on a daily basis: 386 hours to be exact (that’s over 16 days in real-time – sheesh!). I love the 1v1 match-ups and a friend and I have been tearing through the 2v2 rankings for several weeks now. This is a game I will be surely playing well into 2010.

Related posts:

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Talking about completionists’ wet-dreams, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood hit the (digital) shelves in November. I have already shared my thoughts on the title, so I will spare you the re-iteration, but suffice it to say AC:B was hours upon hours of fun, featuring huge improvements over the previous titles, and kept me happily occupied for days.

Related posts:

Split/Second

A racing game? Yes, I was surprised as well. A colleague at work first recommended this title and then demanded that I play it. I have never been a big racing sim fan, so I was a little skeptic. But then I lost a bet the following week to the same colleague and my “punishment” was playing this title. God I wish all punishments could be like this. Expecting a racing sim with questionable production values and a botched, convoluted “career mode”, I was completely blown away (pun-intended) by what I saw. One of the most satisfying games I have ever played, Split/Second is a fictional reality TV show in the ‘near future’, where drivers compete on tracks laden with explosives and traps. These obstacles can be triggered by any of the drivers as long as they have power, which is earned through air time, drafting and drifting. There was no major car customization, no excessively ‘real-time’ mode, just the directional pad, an accelerator, a brake and two buttons for small and large explosions respectively. It is deceptively simple and shockingly involved and deep. You can win/lose in the final few moments, and the music is so well done, it actually gets your adrenaline pumping for those final precious few seconds of a hard-fought race. Check it out if you haven’t yet, and look on YouTube for some of the soundtrack.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

My love-hate relationship with WoW continued to grow/dwindle in 2010, but finally fizzled out towards the end. Despite the fact that I am no longer playing it, I had a lot of fun playing WoW casually in 2010. I learned what it was like not to raid for 4 hours a night, 4-5 days a week. I learned the fun in creating and pursuing your own little goals, such as going after a particularly elusive reputation, or earning the Chef’s Hat. I ran heroics with strangers and 10-mans with old friends and guildies, and I had a blast. I was also in the Cataclysm Beta from quite early on and played it for nearly three months. I experienced most of the new content and enough of the revamped world to know what Cataclysm had to offer. Eventually I realized it wasn’t enough to keep me around, but I had a great time nonetheless. And who knows, maybe I will find a reason to go back at some point in the future.

Related Posts:

Plants vs. Zombies

PopCap hit gold with this title. This game seems so simple on the surface, but as the levels progress and the various types of zombies and plants unlock, it turns into one of the most complex, strategic and exhilirating titles I have had the pleasure of playing in recent memory. I was initially skeptic of the title, Bejeweled and Peggle (the other smash hits from the developer) aren’t exactly what you would call my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I played the game and realized what an incredible experience it was. Not that the title needed any additional critical acclaim, but it has now been immortalized in WoW as a series of quests in the Hillsbrad Foothils starting with Brazie the Botanist.

Mafia II

And finally, we have the crime drama. The game didn’t get very high reviews from most gaming authorities, getting an average rating around the mid-70s. I am not disagreeing, I don’t think it was as good as it could have been. But the original Mafia, a game I played start to end three times, holds a special place in my heart. And even though the characters didn’t have much cross-over between the two games, I loved every minute of Mafia II, even the abysmal driving controls and the long rides between mission points. Mafia II didn’t live up to its predecessor, but it was a hell of a ride, and I am glad for it.

Honorable Mentions

  • Metro 2033: Great game, supremely atmospheric. Horrendous AI that breaks the game in my opinion.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops: Excellent single-player campaign, especially when juxtaposed against MoH. Awful PC multiplayer ruined my experience.
  • Borderlands: Released in 2009, I kn0w, played it well into 2010, lots of good DLC content, had a blast.
  • Darkfall: SynCaine was right, it is difficult to go back to WoW after experiencing Darkfall in all it’s brutal, unforgiving glory, still learning, still trying to wrap my head around it.
  • Machinarium: Actually can I have eight favorites of 2010? Yes, it’s that good.

“Assassin’s Creed MMO?” or “Rome Might Need Saving… From Assassins!”

December 28, 2010 1 comment

And we’re back from Christmas break. Well actually that is a lie because in my part of the world, Christmas isn’t celebrated widely, you know, being a Muslim country and all with its own culture, traditions and holidays. I have been away because I have been incredibly sick, and I am pretty sure somewhere along the coughing bouts I lost half a lung at a bus stop downtown.

I digress.

Assassin’s Creed MMO?

Ever since I finished Brotherhood, I have been contemplating what it would be like to play the game in an MMO setting? It is a living breathing world that transforms and morphs based on the choices you make (the city building element), and continues to evolve as the player progresses. The player can also call in his own Assassin recruits in battles (companions). The only thing really missing is a bunch of Assassins running around Rome trying to tackle the Borgia and the Templars. I think you would need to limit the number of players in a world to ensure Rome isn’t overrun with overly ambitious budding Assassins to the point that Rome needs saving from Assassins instead!

The point is that I think an Assassin’s Creed MMO would be a great idea. Lo and behold, two facts for your perusal:

  1. In 2008, Ubisoft’s boss Yves Guillemot said that Massive, a studio that had previously only made strategy games, was being put to work in the MMO space.
  2. On December 23rd, 2010, via a Tweet, Ubisoft revealed that Massive was working on an Assassin’s Creed project. Hallelujah?

In all likelihood it isn’t an MMO, probably some Facebook tie-in to the third (fourth?) upcoming game in the long-running, critically-acclaimed series.

But one can hope right?

“What MMOs Can Learn From Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” or “The Themepark vs. Sandbox Debate Continues”

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Part of an ongoing series; previous entries:

An Iterative Process of Improvement

I recently finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I have played every major game in the series and each successive iteration continues to build upon the strengths of the one prior, while (attempting to) eliminate the flaws. As I mentioned before in the mini-review, the biggest improvement is the combat. The first two games required you to passively sit there, waiting for your opponent to strike and then time a counter to kill him instead, and over the course of time that became very frustrating. I especially hated the penultimate battles of Assassin’s Creed II. It took forever to wipe out a group of guards because all you had to go on was counter-kills. Brotherhood changed that up by introducing execution streaks, where once you got a kill, either by counter-killing or aggressively chain-attacking, you could chain that into a series of potentially endless moves that would offensively dispatch your foes around you. There is nothing more satisfying than taking out seven or eight guards in a row without any of them having stood of chance of so much as attacking you, let alone harming you.

I am beginning to go off-topic. My point is that each game was better than it’s predecessor, and Brotherhood was no exception. I was very pleasantly surprised by the improvements and thoroughly enjoyed the game, especially considering this latest installments was designed with a completion obsessive compulsive player in mind. It’s like Christmas came early!

Optional Quest Objectives

One of the cool new things brotherhood introduced was the choice of completing the mission in a very linear manner, the way the game intends, or using your own ingenuity to tackle the problem. If you follow what the game wants you to do exactly, which, at times, can be quite difficult, you get 100% synchronization with the Animus. if you don’t follow the optional objective and play it out the way you felt like it, you got only 50% synchronization.

A few days prior, I made a post in which I gave an example of having variable quest objectives to make the world feel more natural. In short, what if the NPC you interacted with asked you to kill as many mobs as you could to help the town against <insert antagonist faction> invasion. You can kill one, or two, or five or twenty, and you are given quest rewards, experience and currency based on how many mobs you killed. A commenter pointed out that grinding the mobs will likely be the most desirable solution, so most players will gravitate towards the option with the most rewards, and as such quest designer wouldn’t consider such a system. The feasibility of this idea merits another conversation, suffice it to say that quest structure in MMOs (in my humble opinion) needs an overhaul. We have the technology (such as phasing), we have the hardware, and we have the colossal development teams. Yet no one has been able to crack the formula of putting every last player through precisely the same content with little variation.

One thing that Brotherhood does, and does quite well, is the concept of optional 100% synchronization. You are sent on an assassination mission. You can kill your target in a wide variety of ways. You can attack him with brute force, tearing down everything around you to get to him. You can use a ranged weapon. You can methodically wipe out all the guards in the area, till there is no one left but him. You have the freedom of choice. But if you want the “additional reward” of 100% synchronization, you must kill him while blended into the crowd, sitting on a bench, and you must assassinate the target without being detected.

The 50% synchronization scenario is much easier to execute and requires little thinking on the player’s part, but it doesn’t reward you as well. The 100% synchronization takes  planning, time and solid execution, but rewards you much better.

I think this is something MMOs can learn from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Give players the option of completing the quest objectives any way they see fit (the sandbox paradigm), or in the exact manner you intend, which would be tougher and most time-costly (the theme-park paradigm). Purists will of course argue that this inevitably favors the theme-park side of things. But let us not forget that the theme-park oriented solution requires additional planning, time and coordination. I personally feel that this will give more flexibility to the game, in terms of giving players, who already feel that their entire experience is too on-rails, the freedom of choice for solving their quest objectives. The only people who will be forced to follow the 100% synchronization, there-park oriented path will be obsessive compulsive completionists like me, and I am quite OK with that!

Thoughts on the idea?

P.S.

Bonus discussion question: What if the rewards could vary, not necessarily get better or worse, with how you complete the quest objectives?

“Assassin’s Creed: Awesome” or “Offensive Combat, Deadly Assassins, Same Old Stupid Voice Acting”

December 11, 2010 2 comments

Completionist’s Wetdream

My gaming time these days is being occupied by the excellent Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It is a completionist’s wet dream. There are flags, feathers, treasures, guild missions, assassinations, blacksmiths/tailors/doctors with their own shop quests, banks, underground tunnels, platforming dungeons, mini-games, clusters, puzzles, war machines, courtesan missions, thief missions… the list goes on and on. Oh and did I mention it also has a kick-ass main storyline? But it is so seamlessly integrated into the fray of everything else that you never know where the generally well-defined outlines of the story end, and the side quests and mini-games begin.

Chained Executions

The combat is drastically improved. The drawback for the first two games was being forced to stand there, perpetually blocking (fingers going numb from endlessly holding that stupid button), waiting for someone to attack you so you could counter-kill them with a cool finishing move. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood turns this formula on it’s head, and now allows you to engage in combat offensively. I bruteforce kill my first victim, and then chain an execution streak to take out a ridiculous number of guards. In one mission (when the French assault Bartolomew’s home), my execution streak was 78 kills without blocking, disengaging, or running away. This is, without a doubt, one of the two best new features for the series.

Confraternita di Assassini

The second of these two best new features is your trained band of assassins. In any given fight, I can call up to six highly trained assassins who have more health, skill and equipment than the toughest brutes in the game. And they kill with the same efficiency as you do (assuming you don’t suck!). In fact, I have picked up a few things from my own computer-controlled assassins, such as the liberal use of smoke bombs. There is nothing more satisfying than calling them into a group of guards and seeing four of them air assassinate a group and engage in the chaos around you. You can send them on missions even after they reach level 10 (Assassino!), and earn money and unique items that can be sold at shops, or used to complete shop quests to unlock more items.

It is a kick-ass game, one that I have had an incredible amount of fun with. Rome isn’t as conducive to parkour as prior locations in the series, but it continues to be a fun, engaging and at times exhilarating component of the game.

BTW: I have yet to touch the multiplayer component, and I would recommend it highly for the single player portion alone. Buy it. Play it. Tell me all about it.

My only grievance, the terrible “Italian” accents. Ayo it’s a stupid!

I leave you with the game’s literal trailer, courtesy of one Tobuscus, one of the funniest people on YouTube right now.

“I Thought my Work Was Done” or “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood Story Trailer”

November 14, 2010 Leave a comment

“Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” or “Multi-Stabby Stab Stab”

June 14, 2010 Leave a comment

The cinematic trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, slated to be released on November 16, 2010, is out at E3. For the first time in the franchise history, we will see elements of multiplayer. How the multiplayer fits into the larger narrative remains to be seen, because it makes sense for there to be cooperative multiplayer from a narrative perspective. But if it is competitive PvP combat, than that sort of defeats the purpose of there being a “Brotherhood” doesn’t it?

I think this trailer is the best one yet. The original game’s cinematic has been dethroned, and the cinematic for Assassin’s Creed II was, well, a little too Renaissance for my tastes. At any rate, you can watch it below: