Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gamer's Diary - 2009-09-15

Other things have been taking up my time in the last four months, so I haven't played games that much. I'll just mention a few highlights.

I gave Civilization another chance, in the form of Civilization Revolution for the Xbox 360. Ruthless dictatorship does have its rewards, and I'll be applying that strategy again on this one or on Civilization IV.

Shadow Complex on Xbox Live Arcade is so awesome. I'm not a completionist, yet this game is so fun I'm playing through it a second time to get every item and visit every location.

Sins of a Solar Empire is fun, but hard. I lost my first game played on normal difficulty with a small map, but it was still a treat to watch two fleets engaging in a massive space battle.

I prefer my RPGs to have a battle system that is either pure turn-based or pure real-time, none of this silly ATB hybrid stuff. Tales of Vesperia is notable for its all-action combat system that more closely resemblers a fighting game like Street Fighter or Soul Calibur. It's a refreshing change of pace.

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-28

I really haven't had any time for games per se since my last entry, save for a demo (Space Invaders Extreme) and to use a game to test new video drivers and hardware (Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, GUN, Peggle Extreme, Half-Life, Half-Life 2) . I spent little more than five minutes with each.

Space Invaders Extreme was more than the same old game with jazzed-up graphics; actually it changes a lot about the way the game plays. It's more of a re-imagining than a remake. This one goes on my buy-later list.

An update to Linux broke both the proprietary and open 3D drivers for my two-year-old ATI graphics card. ATI is no longer updating the proprietary driver, and no fix would be coming any time soon for the open one, so I was stuck with a 2D driver. And the prospect of playing my games in the Windows partition for some undetermined number of months or years until the open driver was fixed and enough functions added to it to match the proprietary one.

Not acceptable.

So I said goodbye to ATI and replaced the card with an upper-middle performance NVidia one. The result? Easy driver installation, easy configuration, performance improvement, and glitch-free graphics. By contrast ATI driver installation and update was a nightmare, configuration was confusing and inconsistent, performance was poor, and there were always graphics glitches, problems and failures.

So why is ATI lauded by Linux advocates and NVidia castigated? Because the ATI hardware specs are open, making possible the (mostly useless) open-source driver.

A man walks into a butcher shop and asks for a pound of hamburger. The butcher wraps it up and says, "That'll be two dollars." The man says, "That's outrageous! The shop down the street has it for one dollar a pound." "So why not buy it from him, then?" asks the butcher. "He's out," comes the reply. "Well," says the butcher, "When I'm out mine is fifty cents a pound."

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-09

On the recommendation of Rebel FM's Game Club, and because console versions were hard to find, I picked up GUN on Steam. It wasn't the cheapest option, but it was still inexpensive and by far the most convenient.

Although I succeeded in getting it to run on Linux via Crossover Games, the hassle of glitches and poor frame rates drove me to run it in my Windows XP partition instead. There it ran just right with one notable exception.

It crashes from time to time.

What's worse is that it has no autosave. Even knowing that, I managed to get bit by it when the game crashed and I lost all my progress. I need to get back into the habit of saving every minute or so. Thankfully it does have save-anywhere.

I'm not sure whether it's my chemo-numbed fingers, the game having been originally designed for consoles, or my growing comfort with playing first-person shooters on console controllers, but I found GUN much easier to play using an Xbox 360 controller than with mouse-and-keyboard.

I've enjoyed what I've played of it - it comes across like a Western movie, recycling clichés from the genre without feeling clichéd itself. It's quite fun, and I'll be playing more of it in the future.

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-08

Some critics have talked about Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars as if it's a return to the days before GTA3, when the perspective was top-down, the gameplay was simpler, and the games were supposedly more light-hearted and fun.

They're right. The perspective is top-down. But with the exception of that, and of the absence of voice acting, this is a modern GTA title. Everything looks and moves like the latest games, and the plot, mission structure and gameplay system works the same way. Even the post-GTA3 mix of serious themes treated seriously, satire and over-the-top lunacy is there.

I suspect the reason for the top-down view is technical. The more objects a game has to draw, the more system resources it consumes. With the normal GTA view, the game has to draw stuff all the way to the horizon, or until it runs out of memory. With a top-down view, the farthest thing that has to be drawn is the ground.

The game's pretty fun, in its modern GTA way. I'll be playing it again.