Hunting monsters for the fourth time

Finished the MH4U demo just now. A decent way of tasting the full game. You start with a bunch of potions and megapotions, so it’s not overly difficult, even on Experienced. The Gore gave me some trouble the first time because you only get 25 minutes (also he’s seriously dangerous when angered), but once I knew his pattern, I made it the second time around with a good 5 minutes to spare.

The game is not exactly a looker. The textures are quite bad, the palette choice is poor, and in 3D mode there’s texture crawling everywhere. That said, the framerate is good enough, and in 2D mode you even get some antialiasing for your trouble.

The new gameplay additions are… troubling, in part. The big maps are nice, and of course the controls are familiar as always. The extra verticality would add more depth to the combat, if the grabbing weren’t simply a button mashing minigame. Its usefulness also seems somewhat questionable, at least in this demo. Maps are a lot more confusing, now that there’s something to climb everywhere. On the plus side, stamina depletion seems slower, and recovery times from jumps are a lot faster. But again on the bad side, with each map having so many small hills and other differences in terrain height, the lock-on camera doesn’t work nearly as well as in MH3U.

So yeah… it’s still Monster Hunter. Even if the new additions try to shake things up, I don’t think they wanted to change a lot of stuff.

Just like Smash, there’s no Miiverse or Browser support during the game. Also, it seems to be a battery hog: starting with a 3 out of 4 bars battery, after playing for about 60 minutes the red light had gone into blinking status. Doesn’t surprise me, seeing as it squeezes every ounce of processing power out of the console. It’s just too bad that it doesn’t quite translate into tangible graphical improvements (I fear the bigger maps are to blame).

Metroid Contrast

I’ve had my 3DS for a very long time now, enough to receive the 20 ambassador games from Nintendo (I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, really). I didn’t notice until now though, that there’s quite some difference in how the GBA games are rendered, compared to their original counterparts. I can only try on a Gameboy Micro, which might not look quite the same as something like a GBA SP, which was obviously far more popular. But it should do.

Metroid Fusion running on the original 3DS. The contrast seems excessively garish.
Metroid Fusion running on the original 3DS. The contrast seems too garish. Who knew space was purple?
Metroid Fusion, on the GBA Micro. Looks a bit washed out, but not quite as bad as the 3DS.
Metroid Fusion on the Micro. Looks slightly washed out, but not as bad as the 3DS. Gray blue > purple.

I don’t think too many people had a Gameboy Micro anyway. The 3DS seems to render colors almost in the same way as the DS Lite, which means it might actually be the correct way! Considering the known issues with the original GBA and its lack of backlight, it’s possible that Nintendo made the game (which came out before the SP was launched) look more high-contrast than usual, to make it more visible in low-light conditions.

I prefer how it looks on the Micro, so it’s good to have that one extra option around. Considering how long it’s taking for GBA games to become available on the 3DS (will they ever?), most people probably won’t notice either way.

The last leaf of the season

Remember Loom? Probably not. It was a pretty nice adventure game by Brian Moriarty, already author of Beyond Zork, published in 1990 by Lucasfilm Games. Interesting for being devoid of dead ends, before even Monkey Island. You could still get stuck if you forgot to scribble down the various spell notes (and some are randomized for each playthrough), but that was your own fault. Not very successful at launch, it’s become something of a cult classic today.

The very first action you can take in the game is examining an autumnal leaf on a tree, which will then fall off. Also, one of the spells in the game dyes objects green. For the longest time, I’ve wondered if you could actually dye the leaf green. I was sure there would be some deeper meaning to it.

The Zork authors usually thought of everything, so... why not?
The Zork authors usually thought of everything, so… why not?
Maybe not this time. Or maybe they don't want you to ruin the game's bleak atmosphere.
Maybe not this time. Or maybe they don’t want you to ruin the game’s bleak atmosphere.

Turned out I was too optimistic.

It’s raining Elites

I need an aspirine. I spent the last two hours trying Halo 2 on Legendary, which was a very good way to remove that itch I had for buying the Master Chief Collection. Seriously, what’s up with this game.

I generally consider myself good enough, I mean, I have finished all the other games on Legendary, including Reach. It’s hard, it takes patience, perhaps I would not be able to do it again today, but I still did it. Halo 2 just feels so unfair to me though. And I’m not even talking about the Jackal snipers, I have never even seen those, because I can’t get past the Cairo hangar.

The Halo stage in DOA4 was indeed the Cairo Hangar. Knowing Itagaki, he probably enjoyed that part. (image source: http://games.gearlive.com/playfeed/article/halo-meets-dead-or-alive-4-on-360-10240441/)
The Halo stage in DOA4 was indeed the Cairo Hangar. Knowing Itagaki, he probably enjoyed that level way too much. (source: http://games.gearlive.com/playfeed/article/halo-meets-dead-or-alive-4-on-360-10240441/)

At one point, you get to a ship which drops off Elites and Grunts. Ok, fine, you kill them. Then more come out, except more dangerous. Fine, you try to kill them too. And then even more come out! I still don’t know what happens next, but chances are that more would come out. Uhm.

The biggest issue is actually dealing with your own weapons. Only the rifle and plasma pistols/rifles are of any use. Short range weapons are a good way to get you killed, So your choice is limited, and so is your ammo. I usually don’t do too badly in this part, until my ammo runs out and then I’m left with SMGs and mounted guns. And then I might as well reload.

Funnily, there’s 4 mounted guns above the platform. Ideally, Bungie wanted players to use them to keep the assaulters at bay. Good luck doing that in Legendary, where sticking your nose out for more than 1,5 seconds will bring to an untimely demise.

New graphics, same frustration
New graphics, same frustration

Of course none of this was fixed for the Anniversary re-release. Nostalgia must be king. Well, they didn’t fix the Jackals either, and a lot more people complained about those.

I’ll probably get the MCC eventually (if only for the other games), and maybe even try this part again on Legendary. Who knows, maybe the higher resolution will make it easier or something. Yeah.

Fun is where the checkpoint is

Ok, after trying Volgarr for a while and getting infuriated in roughly 20 minutes at its lack of checkpoints, here’s something I need to say: screw those old super-difficult games. Ghosts’ n’ Goblins? Battletoads? Frustrating design is not good design. Maybe I’m just growing old, but I can’t imagine anyone liking these kind of games.

Good thing Mario taught almost every videogame character how to change direction while jumping.
Good thing Mario taught almost every videogame character how to change direction mid-jump.

“But you played Super Meat Boy!” – yes, but SMB is level-based. And doesn’t have limited lives. So the frustration is very much partial. You don’t have to get A+ on every level, you can simply finish it at your own leisure if you want.

“But you like Dark Souls!” – oh, please. Dark Souls isn’t one tenth as hard as those old arcade games. Besides, I’ve always said that DS itself could use a bit streamlining in a few areas such as enemy respawning.

“But you play Serious Sam on the highest difficulty!” – quicksave spamming, that’s the keyword here.

Loom, before even Monkey Island, had no dead ends.
Old adventures had a lot of problems. But Loom, before even Monkey Island, had no dead ends.

I’m not saying I like the excessive simplification of modern games… no, wait. To be perfectly fair, there are a few things I like. The convenience of autosaving every few steps, checkpointing at bosses, quest markers and automatic tab-keeping, etc. is something that I would have trouble giving up today.

If this sounds like an apology of modern games, maybe it is.

Defense of the pixel

I wonder if I’m the only one who likes the pixelation. Perhaps it’s due to the original Voodoo’s mere 2MB of texture memory, but a lot of early accelerated games used to have some real blurry textures. In some cases, I prefer the software rendering version. Look at NFS2: Special Edition.

This is what dreams looked like in 1997
This is what dreams looked like in 1997
And this is what they looked like 6 months later (I don't know what's up with the gamma)
And this is what dreams looked like 6 months later (I don’t know what’s up with the gamma)

Look at that background color banding in the DirectDraw version… ahem, I mean, I have the feeling that some details were lost in the 3dfx port. It does run a lot smoother though.

Chances are that my 1024×768 screen is not doing me any favors. Screengrabs sometimes end up looking better than the final result, which is much blurrier instead. Here’s some screenshots from Virtua Cop 2.

Direct3D with no bilinear filtering. This is what you would see with a Matrox Mystique, I guess (screenshots made with a Voodoo 3 3000).
Direct3D with no bilinear filtering. This is what you would see with a Matrox Mystique, I guess (screenshots made with a Voodoo 3 3000).
Direct3D with Bilinear filtering. The success of the Voodoo meant most people saw this. You'd be hard pressed to see a big difference here, but on screen the effect is much more noticeable.
Direct3D with Bilinear filtering. The success of the Voodoo meant most people saw this. You’d be hard pressed to see a big difference here, but on screen the effect is much more noticeable.
DirectDraw version, just for kicks. It looks almost like D3D with no filtering, aside from the alpha stippling in place of proper transparency.
DirectDraw version, just for kicks. It looks almost like D3D with no filtering, aside from the alpha stippling in place of proper transparency.

Despite these screenshots, in Virtua Cop 2, activating texture filtering will turn the game into a hot mess. Disabling it will result in a nicer-looking version of the original Saturn game.

GLQuake also provides some interesting examples.

I can't really see anything in the central tunnel.
I can’t really see anything in the central tunnel.
A little better. Just be prepared to deal with the shimmering.
A little better. Just be prepared to deal with the shimmering.

I just consider myself lucky for Anisotropic filtering today.

Random steps

I noticed some websites still believe that The Elder Scrolls: Arena allows you to walk from one city to the other. I’m not sure where this belief started, but it’s definitely wrong. Walking never brings you anywhere in Arena.

TES: Arena
Good luck finding a tower like that in the game. Seems more like something you’d find in Oblivion.

Today I tried walking around for a pretty long time. At times, I would stop to raid a dungeon (which looked exactly like the one before it). Of course, the game generates content randomly, so that’s to be expected. But if you enter a new dungeon and find the map already filled out, that must mean the memory allocated for the dungeons outside of the city is always the same… or something. I don’t know enough about the technicalities of game development.

TES: Arena
The original Tomb Raider?

And even inside a dungeon, this problem surfaces again. Floors are only stored in memory as long as you’re in there, apparently: if you go to the second floor and then down again, the layout remains the same, but all treasure is reset. I’m pretty sure that bag of gold wasn’t there before? Indeed it wasn’t. Same for the enemies, although the extremely low visibility means they will sometimes just randomly spawn behind you. Be careful when you open the map.

TES: Arena
Looks like a short distance… but this isn’t Daggerfall.

If you keep walking around, you will eventually run into a terrain loop, at which point your only chance of escape is finding a pickable door and entering, thus refreshing the outside area (on a side note: so many farmers around here have gold and monsters in their houses, how can they even survive?). When that happens, though, you’ll probably find it easier to just fast-travel to a city and start questing again.

Despite these issues, there is something endearing about Arena’s randomization. Perhaps it’s my fixation with hoarding gold: after all, there’s no shortage of it in the game (and when there is, just walk up the stairs and down again). Bethesda might have fixed this issue in Daggerfall, but there was some appeal in walking toward infinity and beyond.

Writing about whatever comes to mind