Thursday, October 30, 2008

Toby's Daily Schedule

Based on a true story.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

10 Minutes of Portal Prelude

Portal Prelude is a fan-based MOD created to tell the story of Aperture Science's testing facilities before the invention of the all-knowing and loving supercomputer Glados.

In the first 10 minutes of the game, Portal Prelude does two things wrong:
1) It stammers on itself by using unnecessary dialog to prolong play time.
The game starts out the exact same way as Portal does; you wake up in the isolation (relaxation) chamber, ready to go out and conquer this world of white. But Portal Prelude mars the introduction of its game for one reason: the lengthy dialog sequence.
Portal (not Prelude) introduces you to the game by having Glados provide you with a brief synopsis of your state and what you are supposed to do. If my memory serves correctly, this is done in less than a minute or so.
Portal Prelude however, decides to use two (European accented) scientists as your observers, and they yammer on endlessly about extraneous (and unfunny) material for what seems like an eternity before you are allowed to exit the test chamber. They ramble on about some kind of test procedure, your goals, and everything else, but none of it is really necessary--assuming you have played Portal (not Prelude!). They also continue to do this--unnecessarily--before every succeeding test chamber--which for the first ten minutes only counts as the next test chamber.
The general rule here, is you want to use the minimum amount of dialog as possible, in order to get the player playing the game, and not reading a book or watching a movie. Every line of dialog should contribute to some kind of story or atmosphere, and Portal Prelude fails to do this.
2) The game forces you to use a complex gameplay mechanic, and imposes death on the player much too early, allowing frustration to set in and perhaps cause some people to quit the game.
The game crawls along to the first test chamber and gives you the first version of the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device which can only shoot orange portals, and leave you at the mercy of wherever the game desired to put the blue portal.
In the first test chamber, you are stuck in a square room, enclosed by glass walls, and required to jump out with an orange portal. The trick here is: the blue portal--which you cannot move--is situated in the center of four laser turrets, all of which can kill you. Thus, you are left as the player, to use the orange portal in only way one possible (because you have to shoot it on the wall next to you to exit the room) to get yourself killed because you can't move the blue portal.
Portal Prelude happily throws you into the first test chamber where the majority of players will frustratingly die about 5 times before figuring out the puzzle which requires you to use a gameplay mechanic only introduced in the second half of Portal (NOT PRELUDE).

It would be understandable to take a slightly different course than that of Portal (not the prelude), but starting the first test chamber on such a high ramp of difficulty is not engaging or fun--just frustrating if you don't "get it."

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Monday, October 06, 2008

The Departed vs. Infernal Affairs

The Departed (2006) was based on a Hong Kong movie entitled Infernal Affairs (2002). There are many similarities between the two, and many differences as well. The result is two differing takes on the same screenplay.

First off, the most glaring difference between the two movies is that The Departed is nearly fifty minutes longer. Many of these fifty minutes are devoted to character development (particularly at the beginning of the film) and a building tension up to the first scene where both sides of the war discover a mole on the other side. Infernal Affairs just jumps into this concept about ten minutes in, whereas The Departed allows the story to boil over for about forty-five minutes first--as far as I can remember--before kick-starting the plot. The result is that the same scene in The Departed has a greater impact, because you care about the characters more and you contemplate the potential outcomes that every little repercussion the characters make may have.

Second, the two movies go off about handling the plot devices slightly differently. Infernal Affairs makes it immediately clear who each mole is and what side they are on. The Departed instead uses a long dialog between many characters, and still after that you are not 100% sure of what is going on. Other differences in the plot include little clarifications on The Departed's behalf, such as the cops asking 'Why are we chasing Martin Sheen?' before actually doing it. Little things like this give the viewer a more concrete understanding of each scene before going into it. This allows the viewer to better evaluate what is going on before it happens. Lastly, in The Departed, Matt Damon kills Jack Nicholson because Matt believed that Jack was ratting him out to the CIA. This was much more plausible than the idea in Infernal Affairs that the 'asian' Matt Damon decided to kill the 'asian' Jack based on some kind of childhood vow to make a choice in life and turn to the good side.

Third, most of the pivotal scenes--the scenes where major characters die--in Infernal Affairs were handled much differently. Infernal Affairs would use long, drawn out, slow cut-scenes, and then proceed to use flashbacks after it was revealed who died. In my opinion, this just lessened the shock and emotional impact of the surprise that somebody died. The Departed just kept the movie going at a fast-pace and didn't stop for any breathers. This upped the shock of every subsequent death as the movie progressed, as the murders seemed to come out of nowhere and be even more surprising than the last.

In conclusion, I would say that The Departed is a much more concrete and satisfying movie than Infernal Affairs. The Departed is much longer, but for good reason, and the result is that every scene has a greater impact than it did in Infernal Affairs.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Assassin's Creed

Words words words, kill somebody, words words words, kill somebody else. That sums up the majority of Assassin's creed.

+ The platforming+climbing:
Continuing in the vein of more modern platformers, Assassin's Creed wisely gets rid of the 'jump' function for the most part, and lets the AI take over when you need to make a leap across an alley-way. This means you don't have to time jumps, and you just run off every edge and watch your character leap across.
+ The city life: When you enter a largely populated city, compare a game like Assassin's Creed to Oblivion. In Oblivion, you walk around densely populated areas, but the characters are all stiff action figures, walking up to each other like mannequins, and carrying out rudimentary and fictionalized conversations. In Assassin's Creed, the city life is much more alive, realistic, and impressive. There are many different types of characters in the city: pot-makers, chest-carriers, beggars, guards, soldiers, and a random array of many citizens. They all walk around independently of you and behave as if they had meaning and purpose to their daily actions. When you put it all together, it creates one of the most believable city experiences in a game to date.
+ The combat system: For a game centered on assassinations and stealth, the combat is surprisingly very well done and fun to operate. Each attack movement is lucid, and there are many ways of carrying out a single fight.

- Repetitiveness: Many games have you repeat certain elements over and over. You might call these gameplay mechanics or whatever else you want to call them. For example, in Zelda games there is a set progression of a series of dungeons, and each dungeon has its own progression of puzzles, traps, and fights which eventually lead up to a boss. You repeat this dungeon sequence over and over until you get to the end. Repetitive? Yes, but it is still enjoyable because each section builds upon the last, and the puzzles, enemies, dungeons, and bosses change every time. The way you complete each dungeon always changes.
Now take Assassin's Creed. You have 9 assassinations that you must complete in this game, and you perform each in the same series of steps: you go to the city, do some random side-quests that range from pick-pocketing to interrogating, find your assassination target, then kill him. What makes this so much worse than the repetitiveness in Zelda is that it NEVER changes. In each city you do everything EXACTLY the same way as before. You fight guards the same way; you pick-pocket people the same way; you interrogate people the same way; each section doesn't build upon the last or change in any way. There is no variety, and no further development of the gameplay.
That being said, the individual elements of the gameplay, such as pick-pocketing, citizen-saving, tower-climbing, are not bad at all. The only bad thing about them is that you already do them 3-6 times for each assassination, but then you multiply that by 9 for the other cities, and you are doing these same things over and over to an extent where it becomes extremely tiring.
Assassin's creed would probably benefit from a somewhat different approach to the gameplay. As it stands right now, a genre switch to RPG, or free-roaming may work better for the current gameplay features. That way you are not required to do anything you don't want to, so you can perform assassinations all day, or you can just pick-pocket people instead.
- Story: On the surface it may seem that Assassin's Creed is just about a guy in the middle-east who must kill people. While this is true, the game begins in the near future/present-day, where scientists have imprisoned a bartender whose ancient ancestor was an assassin in the Holy Land. Using a special machine called an "Anubis" the scientists must unlock the ancestor's memories hidden in the bartender's mind--don't ask me how they do this--and it is through these memories that you experience the majority of the game.
I can understand why they would want to use this story device for two reasons:
1)It creates an explanation for all the little gameplay 'gimmicks' that would seem otherwise... more gimmicky. I'm talking about not being able to access other sections of the city (UNABLE TO ACCESS MEMORY AT THIS TIME) or little equations floating around important objects and characters, that would otherwise blend into the background. It works here, but other games like Twilight Princess accomplished the same 'gimmick' explanations, without having to use a dual, external storyline.
2)It creates a sense of mystery, as you are trying to understand what is going on, and how the present is connected with the past.

However, after the entire storyline is over, the story doesn't wrap up anything at all or even connect this future world with the past. Because of this, I don't see how that 'future' story line benefits the game at all. All it does is create mundane sections of the game where you must walk around extremely slow and try to solve a generic mystery about a company of scientists who are doing evil stuff. Portal's mystery was similar but executed much, much better than it was in AC. In AC it fails to intrigue for a large number of reasons. In my opinion, AC would be better without the entire future subplot to it.

When you put all of the individual elements of the game together--storyline, combat, assassinations, cut-scenes--the result is a game that feels somewhat directionless and incoherent, for lack of a better word. In short, Assassin's Creed is a game that does some things extraordinarily well, and others mediocrely bad, and because of this the game suffers as a whole in the play experience.

Score: 8/10


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Assassin's Creedisms

1. Every male, 40-ish-year old person in the Holy land has at least two sons, both of which are apparently cowardly and need to learn from your brave example.
2. Educated scholars are allowed to pass any guard posts, and enter any high-security area in every city, as long as they bow their heads and act humbly.
3. Stacks of hay are conveniently placed at the edge of every elevated tower, perchance a daring climber fall to his otherwise unwieldy demise.
4. After losing their assailant, guards and soldiers will stumble about blindly, ignoring the only possible hiding spot in front of them, which is usually a stack of hay, a bench, or a curtained room. After not checking the hiding spot (because there's no way you could be in there!), they all immediately turn around at the same moment and walk away.
5. Assassins are unable to swim, probably due to the 5 layers of clothing they wear, and thus, they will die after being emerged in water for more than 3 seconds.
6. Fellow guards will watch in horror, unable to intervene, as you stab their comrades in a combo-switch, awesome kill where you shove the sword straight into the guy's chest. They just have to watch you finish it, because it's too awesome.
7. When Assassin's INC decided they would install a headquarters in every major city in the Holy land, they decided to prefab every entrance so that it would look exactly the same in every city with zero differences.

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