Saturday, October 26, 2013

Exactly what I needed

There are times, particularly under great stress, that you will find me playing games for the simple things. Simple things such as the colours, the sounds, the explosions and the basic pleasure that can arise when said elements combine into an overwhelming synesthesia of light and sound. A much younger me would have considered this ensemble reason enough to enjoy a game, but the older, more cynical me often looks past it unappreciatively. It is often beneficial to revisit said levels of expectations, if not just for the relaxing and carefree game play that can arise. When there are much more serious and darker things clouding the mind, playing a game of this nature can be exactly the thing you need.

With a bit of effort, Strike Suit Zero has become one such game for me, and conveniently so considering current PhD circumstances. I say effort as part of the way to enjoying this game's potential laser show requires abandonment of inhibitions a more careful and sensible me would usually employ. Barrel rolling at terminal velocity, your complete arsenal of weaponry ablaze, into the unfortunate victim of your targeted demise is not exactly a practical or healthy thing to do. But damn, it sure is fun!

Interestingly, I have found that performing these rather dangerous maneuvers have considerably increased my competence at the game. Homeworld style fighter trails and music (same composer) aside, my initial impressions were rather disappointing, finding the game to be slower and less chaotic than I was hoping. However, pushing the Strike Suit to its limits and brutally attempting to take down more than you should be capable of puts you in some ridiculous situations that, after some failure, result in you learning to play better. In some ways it almost clips the skill ceiling of games such as oldskool arena shooters where reaching one's maximum control potential is limited only by the player and not by the game. It is funny as I am yet to see a rated video reviewer play the game anything like is possible, again lending my disdain of the profession.

The following video (recommend 720p+) was originally intended to be a heavily filtered and edited composition, experimenting with some new video editing techniques I have thought up. However, upon performing a first pass of the video using traditional techniques, I thought the resulting short sequence did the job well enough. Maybe next time.

Nevertheless, I do hope my need to indulge in the simpler pleasures of gaming are not necessary in the months to come. While I should try and dedicate as much of my time as sanely possible to finishing my research, there are times when overdoing it can distort your view on the matter, especially when trying to complete a deadline. That is where games like Strike Suit Zero will come in handy, to unconsciously reset the reality of the situation and allow one to cheer up about it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When Pigs Fly

Flying Wild Hog, the developer of two games (Hard Reset and Shadow Warrior) that I have been playing recently are an interesting company. They are not quite indie, nor are they exactly AAA, but are somewhere in between. This in-between-ness seems to allow them to create games that they as developers want to make and not what some out-of-touch business man or woman in a suit who has dollar signs for eyes wants to. The reason I say this is that their games have a distinct flavour for fun derived from raw gameplay, paying homage to the oldskool FPS gameplay mechanics lacking in so many modern FPS games today, much to the detriment of the genre. You don't see this today because it is risky to not make games that cater towards the lowest common denominator. However, their games also have the visual quality and production values of a game you would typically have to fork out $80 for, but are instead available for a fraction of the price ($30 for Shadow Warrior on release). The only way I can see companies like this existing is if they are unhindered by at least some of the bullshit plaguing much of the games industry these days and are allowed free reign over IPs that they actually care for (unlike Gearbox with Aliens: Colonial Marines). Part of this can at least be discerned from FWH's main website regarding their design philosophy:

"We do not believe in corporate management and corporate ways. Our studio is managed without producers and we try to employ as many anti-corporate management ideas as possible. Such a flexible structure allows us to limit all the obsolete bureaucracy and hierarchy to minimum. We do not believe in managers or leads who themselves don’t create real content of a game. People who are responsible for management in our studio also work as programmers, artists or designers. We do believe that people who are given freedom, both for their ideas and use of their skills, work better and more effective. We don’t complicate things that are simple."

Personally I find the stance they have taken to be quite admirable and as long as they maintain this perspective and continue to pursue and produce games in the vein of their most recent ones, they will likely stay on my (incredibly short) list of game developers I have any faith in. Along with Croteam, Riot Games and Valve, any games made by them will instantly be on my radar.

Hard Reset - Final Boss Battle
But enough of the fanboy talk. This short post is really about the games Hard Reset and Shadow Warrior. In many ways they are similar, taking the good parts of classics such as Duke Nukem and Doom but adding RPG elements from a game like Skyrim for good measure. Intense oldskool combat (without regenerating HP and optional ironsights), crude but enjoyable humour and exploration are welcome elements in any FPS game I play. Additionally, they both have upgrade/perk systems that you expand upon as you play, making weaker weapons and different playstyles relevant throughout the course of the games. However, this is where Shadow Warrior really shines, going one step further by introducing a deep and powerful melee and offhand combat system which is crucial for success in harder difficulties. Up to 7 additional sword and offhand abilities can be used, 3 specific to the katana, allowing you to tank, heal or cause mass crowd control for extended durations. Combined with the primary and (unlockable) secondary attacks on all the 7 weapons as well as shurikens, demon heads and hearts and you have a formidable arsenal of weapons and attack combinations. While overwhelming at first, with a bit of practice it flows into regular combat naturally and beautifully. If this is not the correct and logical evolution of the FPS genre then I don't want to know what is.

Shadow Warrior - Astoundingly pretty and high performing Road Hog engine visuals
Perhaps expectantly though the press have somewhat mixed reviews on FWH's most recent game, Shadow Warrior. Usually I couldn't care less about the subjective opinions of a 'professional game reviewer', but this time the ignorance and stupidity of remarks are astounding. While Shadow Warrior has received some stellar reviews, even from some of the more mainstream and criticised sites (e.g. IGN), there are reviews floating around that seem like the reviewer was playing a completely different game. Gametrailers gave the game a 6.2/10, remarking that the combat system is simply button mashing (note: he doesn't perform a single combo in the video) and claiming the game doesn't bring anything new to the genre. While I would like to say the reviewer was having a bad day or that maybe the game was too confusing for him to appreciate, I unfortunately cannot write off the fact that these surface-level reviews can and DO affect the sales of games. That is definitely a shame, as Shadow Warrior is, honestly, brilliant.

But enough talking. Why post words and pictures that can say a thousand words when a moving picture can say a million? The following video is my playthrough of the final arena battle against demons in Chapter 16, arguably one of the toughest sections of the game. The difficulty is Insane with EX mode on and all upgrades, perks and skills unlocked. Worth mentioning is that the combat in these kind of arena battles are more about endurance, timing and positioning as much as they are about strategy and skill. One ill timed move in the wrong place can make you very dead very quickly. If not for the Soul Harvesting perk (last stand) not being off cooldown on two occasions, I would have died horribly. This fight actually lasted more than 20 minutes in actuality, but I have taken out the less interesting parts for clarity's sake.