Thursday, January 27, 2005

Level Up!

As I write this, I'm a little bit drunk. Drunk with a capital D and a whole lot of "unk" at the end. The letter "R" is also figured a little bit more prominently than it really deserves. Why, you ask? Well, I'm celebrating.

You see, three hundred and sixty days ago I decided to start a stupid little weblog like so many thousands(millions even) have done before. To be honest, when I started Avert Your Eyes I had no idea what was going to come of it, or what it was even going to be about. With the first two posts(two different links there), it was pretty apparent where things were headed. If you really need me to explain where it was that things were headed please go search now for something that you're actually interested in. Otherwise, read on because for the duration of this week's whatever-the-hell-you-feel-like-calling-it, I'm going to give honorable mention to the posts(Oh, I guess that's what they're called) I've done this year that I feel deserve some, well, honorable mention(be warned that there are many links to old posts ahead, you know, reminiscing).

I honestly can't remember why I started doing roundups, but that's when Avert Your Eyes started to feel like a real website. So far Free Linux RPGs, Unreal Tournament 2004 mods, and Free Strategy Games for Linux have all been a part of the roundup family, and I'm sure it will continue throughout the new year. Though, that's not all that's happened. Over the course of this year you've heard about my various addictions to Vendetta , Eternal Lands, Monster Hunter and, most recently, Anarchy Online. I've also tried my hand at serious videogame-related journalism. I've tried to cover E3 as well as newer, though just as disappointing developments. Most of all, though, I got pissed.

If not for the people out there making games that even a GNU/Linux user can play, or the(and I quote Penny Arcade here) unstoppable creative torrent of the mod community 2004 would have been a much more disappointing year. Even though many good games have been released this year(check the archives, I'm linked out...), with Electronic Arts deciding they're going to be the Microsoft of the videogame publishing world, more and more of us are going to have to start looking at what's being created by people who actually care about games. To end this post as others have ended: I'm out. Oh, and happy belated gaming new year, you fucks.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Linux Free Strategy Game Roundup: Part 3

OK, this week's game is Advanced Strategic Command, otherwise known as ASC.

Last week, before I revealed which game I was talking about, I mentioned that there were some things about it's interface that made it hard for me to get right into. The second time I tried it, I was able to understand the interface quite a bit faster, but this fact alone is one of the most annoying things about the whole open-source gaming scene. There are far too many games around where the developers have been working on it for so long, they've forgotten that not everyone is going to be a familiar as they are with the game's internals.

Anyway, back to ASC. As it's based on Battle Isle(apparently a classic I'm not familiar with), the gameplay is turn based. The feel of the game can actually be likened quite a bit to the Advance Wars series on GBA, except for two reasons. One, it's hex based like The Battle for Wesnoth, which lends a different feel to movement. Two, it doesn't look as good as Advanced Wars(a GBA series, if you weren't aware). If you're looking for graphics, don't look here. Both games previously mentioned in the Roundup surpass ASC graphically in every way.

Yeah, the gameplay is fun. The problem is, the game doesn't have a very "game-like" feel to it. It almost feels more along the lines of a game that should come bundled with Gnome or KDE than it does something you'd download on your own, for fun.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

You Know I Hate You

Honestly, I was planning on Part 3 of the Linux Free Strategy Game Roundup for this week. However, a stick was thrown between the spokes of my progress with the as of yet unnamed game in the form of a difficult-to-use interface, which I'm sure I'll mention next week. So, this week, you get more about Star Ocean: Till The End Of Time.

Having put over 50 hours into it at this point, my fondness for this game is now firmly cemented. I know I touched on it last week, but I'm still learning new intricacies of the battle system all the time. The different play styles for every character are really unique - if every character looked exactly the same, you'd still be able to tell which one you were controlling by feel alone. The invention system - again, something I mentioned last week - had me entirely confused at first but, while it can be frustrating, the amount of depth it offers to anyone willing to take a look is truly impressive.

Now, here's where certain people are just going to start to laugh at me. I admit that with Star Ocean, the gameplay is where the strength lies. That said, I really ended up liking the game's characters and story. Granted, this is a Square-Enix production we're talking about, so that's not exactly unexpected. The story doesn't end up taking too much shit, but if you frequent certain message boards, you'll see an awful lot of bitching about every single character. Except one. Albel. I won't spoil it for anyone who has yet to play the game, but let's just say he's the type of guy who appeals to the Sephiroth crowd. Let's also just say I hate his guts. At least you get a chance to tell him, if you wish.

All the time I've been spending with Star Ocean has been keeping me away from my two other current gaming addictions: Anarchy Online and Monster Hunter, so I've decided the only thing that really can be done is to beat Star Ocean(or at least the story portion, there's more afterwards) as quickly as possible. In fact, I'm off to work on that now.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Linux Free Strategy Game Roundup: Part 2

So, it's been a while since the first part of this series, but it's finally back. When it comes to strategy games on GNU/Linux systems, the battle for the most popular game would probably be between part one's game, Invasion: Battle Of Survival, and this week's game: The Battle For Wesnoth.

This game has been around before, and I've played it before as well, I've just never mentioned it before. If you're not familiar with the premise, it's a turn-based game that plays out on a hex battlefield. It follows the "all your units move and attack, then all their units move and attack" formula, but with the possibility of more than two armies on the field of battle. The visuals, while not the best you'll ever see, are some of the most cohesive in any fully open-source game out there right now, and the story sequences in between and during battle are up to the same standard.

Where Wesnoth really trumps BoS is in it's inclusion of a tutorial to get players quickly up to speed with their surroundings. By the time you're in your first battle, you have a fair idea as to what exactly to do, and how to do it. The difficulty ramps up fairly quickly, to the point that the game's developers actually suggest that anyone playing through the campaign for the first time play on the easy difficulty setting. Of course, there are many who will ignore this advice and be promptly wiped out by the enemy's forces.

Anyone who's a fan of turn based strategy should check this out, without a doubt. While the developers will obviously continue to work on new content, game balancing, and everything else, the game is in a totally playable state right now. Oh yeah, I haven't even mentioned the fact that multiplayer exists. Multiplayer exists. There we go.

I Hope The End Of Time Isn't Soon

This last week, I've been playing Star Ocean: Till The End Of Time, a late gift. It's been a while since it's been out and, while there have been reviews both good and bad, I was somewhat suspicious of the game after seeing what Penny Arcade had to say about it. Reading other reviews seemed to paint an entirely different picture, but which one was right? Penny Arcade has generally been dead on, as far as I'm concerned, but this time we don't see eye to eye.

Yeah, that's right. I really like this game. The real-time combat system, which I thought I'd be maligning over in no time, is good to the point that it actually gives me some hope for Final Fantasy XII. While it doesn't sport a particularly liquid-smooth feel, attacks have a sense of weight which makes pulling off combos very satisfying, especially when switching between characters for maximum effect. While your AI controlled party members generally don't fight too well at the beginning of the game, an interesting system where you actually increase their skill(not strength) while leveling eventually has them fighting well enough to hold their own in any battle.

Yeah, any game has got to have bad parts. With Star Ocean, a lot of reviews have mentioned shoddy character detail but neglected to also mention that only certain characters look like crap. Why this is remains a puzzle to me - the character models themselves are well done, but the texture work on some(mainly NPCs you see clearly for a second or two) just looks awful. Does that really matter? Not to me. The only other problem is just as much a problem in any recent Japanese RPG as it is in Star Ocean: squeaky voice acting. At this point though, that's just come to be expected.