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    Oct 19th, 2009 at 08:13:13     -    Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (360)

    Entry 1:

    SUMMARY

    Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is at its heart a physics based puzzle game. The other major elements consist of platforming and exploration. Through the course of the game the player collects various parts that can be used to build vehicles that allow them to complete the physics based puzzles, explore the worlds, and collect puzzle pieces. Banjo Kazooie is a humorous and "playful" game that creates an exceptional environment for players to experiment and explore.

    GAMEPLAY

    In the beginning of the game you are introduced back into the original world of Banjo Kazooie, from the first Nintendo 64 game, as well as their original nemesis. The game initially appears similar to the original but is quickly interrupted by a new character who throws everyone into a completely new world. Next, you are put through a few tutorial on how to move objects around in the world, how to construct simple vehicles, and how to collect puzzle pieces.

    Once you are finally set free, you get to venture into the first world. When you enter a world you get to choose a vehicle that you want to use. At this point in the game, all you have is your little trolley that you constructed in the tutorial. Learning to control this trolley take some time; the physics in Banjo Kazooie's world is not quite what it is in the real world.

    Throughout the world you meet various characters of which all seem to be some sort of animal. Each of these characters has some dialogue which is usually humorous or full of puns, making the interactions between Banjo, Kazooie, and other character quite enjoyable. Each world has its own little story revolving around these characters, though it is not really involved. The main story has something to be desired as well, but this is more than made up for in gameplay. The missions alone seem to add a great variety to the game in terms of the things you get to do while playing.

    Entry 2:

    GAMEPLAY

    There hasn't been much change in game play since the last play period; however, I have gotten more into figuring out how to construct better vehicles. Building your own vehicles is quite fun and satisfying; especially when you are able to use them to efficiently complete a puzzle. At this point in the game, all I have at my disposal are "car" and structural parts. But even with these few pieces you can still create a variety of vehicles.

    I have found that some things do tend to hold true when it comes to the in game physics. Building a vehicle low to the ground and somewhat wide seems to make it easy to control; however this does make it heavier reducing the speed. So as you can see there are a fair number of factors that need to be taken into account when designing your next great vehicle. I used to love playing with Legos (and probably still would), so this part of the game is extremely fun for me. You get to build a vehicle and then drive it around and use it to complete tasks.

    Much of my second play through was spent experimenting with different vehicle designs to see what worked best. One of the challenging things about this was that for some of the missions, the car needed to be able to push objects effectively. Designing a well balanced car proved to be quite difficult.

    DESIGN

    Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is hub based and can be broken up into two sections: the hub, and the various worlds attached to it. Initially you only have access to a single world. From this world you gain enough puzzle pieces in order to unlock the next world. This seems to be the overarching process throughout the game. Through the first two play throughs I was only able to reach the second world, which happens to actually only be a variation on the first. However this allowed me to become familiar with the level's layout, which seems like a good design decision. I was in no way bored with the levels.

    There are many facets to the game that will keep a player interested. The most interesting are the dialogue, the creativity of the levels, and the creation of vehicles. The dialogue is funny and witty, which makes it quite entertaining. Though at first daunting; once you get the hang of it, designing vehicles, becomes a very fun and experimental process. Other than being limited to the number of pieces you can use in a vehicle, there is no other limit to what you can try. As you attempt to complete challenges, you often have to go back and revise your design so that it will be better equipped to complete the task at hand.

    Banjo Kazooie has elements of both a game of progression and emergence. There are levels with challenges, and completing these challenges allows you to unlock even more. However, the way in which you solve these challenges is up to you. There are of course some physical guidelines that must be followed (you can't win using a wedge car on a pushing challenge), but other than that, it is up to you to create the solution. The story itself sets up some conflict and a reason to go through each level and its contained challenges, but what really drove me to play the game was to see what parts I would get next, and what the next greatest vehicle i could build was.

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    Oct 5th, 2009 at 15:06:51     -    Super Mario 64 (N64)

    Entry #1:

    SUMMARY

    Super Mario 64 keeps many of its classic Mario elements: jumping, collecting coins, and stomping enemies. Each level has a set of objectives where the completion of each one rewards the user with a golden star. Collecting enough of these stars opens up new levels and areas in the game. Also as the player reaches new levels, Mario gains new skills which he can use to get previously unreachable stars.

    GAMEPLAY

    Super Mario 64 sticks to the usual plot where Mario has to save the princess from Bowser, jumping through levels to reach some goal. However, rather than just trying to reach the end of a level, like in the older games, Mario now has to collect stars. Each level has its own unique theme, which can range from a scorching desert to a frozen mountain. Since the game is of the platformer genre, nearly every level has some star that is in a very high location, requiring Mario to make a series of skilled jumps to reach it.

    Mario doesn’t really have much of a personality and just listens to what other NPCs have to say and does what they tell him. He does however have a little phrase that he says when entering a level, and he gets very excited when he gets a new star. There are other characters that appear at various points throughout the game to give Mario guidance or give him a challenge where he can earn a star.

    Overall the levels provide a nice amount of variety to keep the game interesting and the challenge progressing as a nice pace. With the addition of a new ability here and there the gameplay never gets boring. It can however get somewhat repetitive when trying to reach difficult stars, but this is a common occurrence in games anyway.

    Entry #2:

    GAMEPLAY

    After collecting enough stars one of Bowser’s areas will become accessible. These areas tend to really focus on refined Mario maneuverability skills. There are many places that Mario can fall off the side of the level, often causing the player to have to restart from the last check point, or falling to a much lower platform. This can be frustrating, but these levels are intended to provide a challenge to the player and are not meant to be easy.

    Throughout the levels, the player is introduced to new moves that Mario can use. Most of these moves are available to the player from the beginning of the game, but are not actually presented to the player until the first time they need to be used to reach a goal. Another element that is given to the player as they progress through the game is access to colored blocks which provide power-ups for Mario. I recognized this element from the original Super Mario World, where once the blocks had been unlocked, they gave Mario a way to access new areas. They have a similar effect in Super Mario 64.

    DESIGN

    The controls for Super Mario 64 take some getting used to as Mario has some interesting physical properties and has also moved from 2D to 3D. Mario can now move in all directions, including jumping. As the player progresses to new levels and gains new abilities, the player must learn new ways to control Mario. These abilities, in combination with the new levels that they come from, does a pretty good job of keeping the game interesting.

    There are also other additional elements such as cannons. These cannons allow Mario to reach new areas in levels that he would not normally be able to jump to. He can also use the cannons as a new way to get around difficult jumping puzzles. Cannons also open up the amount of space that is accessible in a level; however, if a player tries to shoot Mario out of the level he will bounce off an invisible wall which can remove the player from the game experience.

    Being that Super Mario 64 was one of Nintendo’s first major 3D games, there are a few graphical elements to the game that look slightly out of place. Many objects can be represented as 2D sprites which can save processing power. While these 2D objects don’t look terrible, they also don’t look great. Trees look especially bad; no matter what direction the player’s camera is facing, all trees have one view and appear to always be facing the camera.

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    Sep 28th, 2009 at 12:19:14     -    Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (360)

    Entry 1:

    SUMMARY

    Oblivion is an open world RPG where the player creates their own avatar that they will control in the massive world in which Oblivion takes place. After a helpful tutorial and a bit of story development, the player is thrown into the world, free to choose to do anything they want. Oblivion could be considered more a toy than a game; the player has no obligation to follow the main quest, and may explore the world in any way they see fit.

    GAMEPLAY

    I initially played this game a number of years ago on the PC, before any of the expansions had been released. I was recently walking through Best Buy and saw this version of the game on sale, which included the two expansions that had been released for it. I decided that I would give it another try, but this time on the XBox 360.

    In the beginning of the game, the player is forced through a somewhat lengthy story and tutorial section, where they learn the story behind the main quest as well as how to control their character in the world. After learning the controls, which were not too difficult to become comfortable with, I couldn't help but compare them with the PC version. The PC version allows for greater accuracy; however the 360 version feels much smoother.

    The story draws the play in almost as soon as they start playing. At the end of the tutorial/story section, the player is released into the world and presented with the choice to continue the main story, or go on their own path. I really like this choice since it allows the player to make their own story and explore the world as they see fit, following the main quest when they choose to.

    There are also a large number of characters in the world, almost all of which have their own dialogue. Many of the more unique characters such as the ones that give you quests or shop owners, tend to have their own unique personality and story. In many of the events that take place in the game, the player finds himself accompanied by any number of NPCs fighting alongside him. All of these elements add up to create a very enveloping experience that can draw the player in for hours at a time.

    Entry 2:

    GAMEPLAY

    My second session picked up just after I had finished the first bit of the story line and the tutorial. I was now free to do whatever I wanted. I soon realized that for some people that this might not be such a virtue, especially if they enjoy a fairly linear game. But lucky for them, they can just as easily follow the main quest and do nothing else. I, however, choose to play as a thief in order to increase my wealth early in the game. By following this path, I was able to break into other NPCs houses and steal and valuable goods that I could see. One of the nice features is that when you look at an item you are shown its base value, allowing the player to quickly discern what is valuable and what is not. I found this to be quite enjoyable and satisfying; breaking into a rich persons abode, stealing anything I could carry, and returning to a merchant to sell it.

    I would occasionally complete a quest for the main story line here and there to see what options it might open up for me. Most of the time however, I enjoyed going to the various cities found in the world, and completing small tasks. Since the world is so large, the designers decided to add in a useful feature where the player could automatically travel from location to location, only having to wait for the extent of the loading time. This is an excellent time saver; whereas running from one town to another could take 10 minutes or more.

    Oblivion has way too much to do to be able to cover a lot in a single hour game session, which I guess shows how much work actually went into the game to create a quality product and great gameplay experience.

    DESIGN

    As I have stated many times before, Oblivion is a massive game with many many things for the player to do, and many ways to do these things, creating one of the most emergent games ever. These methods range from using brute force strength to plow through a group of enemies to stealthily taking them out one by one with a bow and arrows. I personally enjoy the more stealthy methods; however if I ever wanted to change it up and start being more direct in my attacks, I could very well do that. The player is not locked into a single way of playing the game at any point. You can even leave a quest right in the middle of it and go do something else, picking up the other quest at any time. This all allows for a great amount of flexibility in gameplay.

    Oblivion could be considered a social game in the sense that the player’s character has to continually interact with other NPCs in a social like manner in order to progress the game, but there is not social interaction outside the game itself. There is no multiplayer capability in the game, limiting it to a purely single player experience. While interacting with various NPCs the player is constantly have to make choices as to the path they wish to follow. This greatly furthers the number of way the game can be played.

    Level design in Oblivion is an interesting concept to tackle. The concept is more about areas rather than levels. An area will have specific characteristics, and these will be shared with any finer grained areas found within the encompassing area. The characteristics could be things such as tree or building types, a coastal, mountainous or swampy region, or the kinds of enemies found in the area. Other areas such as caves or elvin ruins also have their own characteristics.

    I feel that one of the more notable features is the effort that was put into the sound for the game. The music seems to wonderfully set the scene when the player is wandering around the country side, or in a battle or dire situation. The voice acting is very well done, and most of the time, the characters are quite believable, even if there are some glitches in the tone of voice that a character uses ever once in a while.

    Over all Oblivion is an extremely well designed game, even with the few flaws that it actually has. But since it is so massive, I think giving it the benefit of the doubt and letting these slide is the least a critic can do.

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    Sep 7th, 2009 at 18:50:15     -    Chrono Trigger (SNES)

    SUMMARY

    Chrono Trigger is a 2D “old school” RPG. The player controls the main character Chrono, who is the strong silent type. The player moves Chrono around the world and can interact with other characters and objects to move the story forward. There are two types of areas in the world: and over map where Chrono can move from location to location, and areas where Chrono can interact with objects. One of the main mechanics in the game is the usual RPG battle system, however Chrono Trigger’s seems to be more unique than the common turn based system, and the location of characters on the screen has an effect when it come the actions they perform in battle.

    GAMEPLAY

    Chrono Trigger is a single player game with no multiplayer elements. It begins with the character waking up on the day of a fair. After a few bits if monologue from his mother the player is given control of Chrono. He is moved around using the D-pad and can interact with object and characters throughout the world. After playing for a while the player is thrown right in to the main story line when Chrono is sent through time with another character that he has met at the fair. The story is pretty engaging and seems to be going in an interesting direction with the time travel concept.

    Other than moving Chrono around, the player is occasionally thrown into battles with monsters in various places throughout the world, often known as dungeons. Unlike many of the RPG battle systems I’ve played, Chrono Trigger’s is I bit unique and quite fun. Rather than being turn based, where the player takes a turn then the monsters take a turn, a little time gauge fills up for each character and then they take their turn. The other interesting thing is that a characters location on the screen affects the effects of their actions. Some actions, like Chrono’s Cyclone, hit any enemies in a specific radius of a given point.

    As the player plays battles, the characters that participate in the battles gain experience. Once they gain enough experience they gain a level. Gaining a level makes them stronger as well as gaining new abilities that can be used in battle. These new abilities keep battles interesting by evolving the strategies that the player can use. Experience isn’t the only way characters can become stronger. The player also has the option to equip their characters with various pieces of equipment that they acquire throughout the game.

    GAMEPLAY

    As the game progresses Chrono meets more characters that the player gains control of. Each of the characters has dialogue throughout the game, except for Chrono. This seems to be a common way to progress the story for RPGs. The new characters also bring new abilities for the player to use in battle, allowing for the development of new strategies. I find the game to be a very innovative RPG for its time and definitely enjoyable to play.
    The story continues to develop and open up more options to the player with various plot twists, new time periods and locations, and numerous characters for the player to interact with. Each development continued to make the story more interesting. The game seems to have an excellent flow and very balanced difficulty, with some parts being tough to proceed through, but quite beatable.

    DESIGN

    Chrono Trigger is graphically a standard 2D top down RPG, and has many of the same elements of almost all RPGs of this style. These include characters which have stats that increase through gaining experience and level as the game progresses, and are able to be equipped with weapons, armor, and accessories to increase the stats. Increasing their character’s stats betters a player’s chance of surviving through the numerous battles that they will encounter while playing the game. The two most notable and presumably innovative aspects of the game for the time are what seems to be a deep story with decent graphics and the exciting battle system.

    The story is supported by numerous scenes where characters have dialogue (except for the main character, Chrono), but there are no actual “cutscenes” in the game, where the player loses total control. There is one world with various times throughout the game. Each of these times can be considered its own “world.” I like that the game is confined to a small planet with a few locations (where many RPGs have large planets), but there is a log of variety in the design of the times.

    Every battle that the player encounters throughout the game is completely unique (though most can be repeated), which provides for a game experience that is almost never boring. Boss battles are like longer versions of standard battles, however they sometime incorporate dialogue or unique situations. Along with battles there are other interactive minigames to break up the standard RPG elements. While playing and gaining levels, the reward of gaining skills for characters is nice, since it adds to the way the game can be played.

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    1Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (360)Playing
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    3Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (360)Playing
    4Grand Theft Auto IV (360)Playing
    5Super Mario 64 (N64)Playing

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