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    Mar 5th, 2008 at 21:37:30     -    Half Life 2: Episode 2 (360)

    GAMELOG #5

    ENTRY # 2

    GAMEPLAY

    After roughly an hour and a half more of gameplay, the action has finally started to pick up. I am, more or less getting to shoot things on a regular basis now. However, I still feel like the game is lacking that certain magic that makes a good game great.

    But before I get to that, I’d like to to just say that I really hate the sound in the game. In a game they is story driven and about character just as much as it is about shooting, you would think that they would have the option to just turn up the volume of character’s voices without turning up all the sound effects. But for whatever reason this feature is lacking. So I have the option of not hearing anything anyone is saying during a fire fight, turning my TV up and angering my neighbors because the have to heard gun shots blasting, keep the remote close by so I can rapidly turn the TV volume up or down, or turn on subtitles. All those option suck and really take you out of the gaming experiment this game offers. It wouldn’t even be so bad if this little problem only affect narrative comprehension, but more often then not other character give you hints or objectives during battles (stuff like “fix the elevator!” or “enemies coming from this tunnel!”, you know really important stuff you would like to hear about) and it can cause a great deal of frustration (and sometimes death) to miss these audio queues.

    And now back to that lacking magic…At this point I honestly feel like playing this game is more of chore than a rewarding experience. I think that it is a combination between the “same-old-same-old” levels, the disconnection from battles when you have AI controlled team mates, and the lack of consistent rewards for playing.

    I generally don’t feel exciting or, in same rare instances, interested while exploring new areas because they are all starting to look alike. A dank and dark cave/underground rail rod/subway is about all you get. In fairness I think that I am about to finally get some outdoors action, but I can only comment on what I have played so far. And so far I have become pretty bored with the repetitive nature of the level themes and atmosphere in the game thus far.

    The AI controlled team mates offer another layer of interaction and gameplay options, but they also limit and in same cases exclude you in battle. The prime example of this occurs when ever there is an epic battle and you have an AI controlled team mate. They are pretty much invincible and take no damage. They also have what I can only guess is an unlimited supply of ammo. So not only can they pretty much handle the entire epic battle by themselves, but in some cases they box you out from participating at all because they are crack shoots as well. This has actually been an issue with FPS a lot lately (at least for me), where it is easier to just let teammates do the fighting since you probably won’t do as well and it waste your own ammo.

    Lastly, and this is probably why it feels like a chore at this point, I feel rather unrewarded for my efforts thus far. I have gotten one little nugget of honest-to-goodness narrative development (within context to the series and not just plot development for this game) and that is pretty much it. No power-ups, no super powerful weapons, no stunning moments of disbelieve or epic battles (that my teammates didn’t steal from me). I don’t even get that much satisfaction from shooting things with heavy weapons (like shoot guns) because most of the enemies react as if I had just hit them with a spit ball until I unload two or more shoots into them. Then they just fall over in a most unsatisfying fashion.

    DIESNG:

    Half Life 2: Episode 2 is an amazingly designed game on pretty much ever level. However, as I have expressed above, great design doesn’t automatically mean it is a great game.

    Despite my issues with the audio design, it is still pretty impressive (it would be almost perfect if I could hear what the hell everyone was saying). I honestly can’t tell if there is much music in the game (I could but I would have to turn it back on and check), if there is it blends in almost seamlessly with the background. In addition every sound effect, whether it be a zombie charging you or the sound of a bug being squished under your feet, is spot on. The sound always sets the perfect mood and is almost as much of a character as any other “actor” in this game.

    Repetitive tone aside, the level design is also quite well done. I have never felt completely lost or disoriented while playing the game. Even though there is rarely any clear marker for the direction that you should be going in, you as a gamer always “know” which is the right way. The down side to this is that the level feel very linear, even though they are far less so than other FPS on the market today. They are open and there is a good variety to them, but you cannot help but shake the feeling that you are on a track and that leads to feeling contained and restricted on the part of the player.

    The way that the narrative is presented and advanced is also very well done from a design point of view (though you can tell from my previous entry that I am not always a fan of it). Rarely is the story ever advanced with a non-interactive cut-scene. Instead, other characters talk to you and each other to advance the story in real time via pretty scripted events. All of which are usually very well (voice) acted and staged for maximum dramatic effect. This aspect more than any of the other design choices in the game really brings the world they developers have created to life.

    Other nice design touches include the way that hints and objectives are given to you. It is always a good design choice to have as little HUD clutter, pop up box hints/objectives, and anything else that might remind you that you are playing a game on a screen as possible. Especially in a game that is striving to be intense and suspenseful such as this one. In the sense it is great that all of this information is delivered to you, by in game characters, in real time…if only I could hear them. Also worth taking note of is the pacing of the game. It is generally pretty spot on which action slowly escalating towards the climax, then slowly settling down again before hitting bottom. There are of course the occasional issues here and there, but they are rare at best.

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    Mar 4th, 2008 at 23:22:34     -    Half Life 2: Episode 2 (360)

    GAMELOG #5

    ENTRY #1

    SUMMARY:
    Half Life 2: Episode 2 is a sci-fi themed first person shooter. The game continues the story of Gordon Freeman, the main character of the series, as he continues to battle evil alien/extra-dimensional forces who have taken over the world and imposed a fascist regime.

    GAMEPLAY:
    Right off the bat it is obvious that like the pervious Half Life titles, this one makes liberal use of cinematic and scripted events. Characters interact with you in a convincing fashion and the narrative in generally interesting (if a little convoluted and over dramatized). The game kicks off with a brief intro to the controls and is then followed by a long scripted event that catches you up on the story from the previous game and sets up the main goal for this game.

    Though I enjoy the story well enough I have never been a fan of these “interactive cut-scenes” that litter the game, especially in the episodic ones (this and episode one) since you already are playing a game much shorter than a “full” game would be. I actually get annoyed and frustrated with these parts of the game more than anything. It is not as relaxing or passive as watching a cut-scene, because I still have to move and navigate my character in order to advance the story or other player actions, and at the same time they are not nearly as fun as normal gameplay. The amount of restriction that is put on me, and the fact that I just feel like I am more or less on rails, is not the way to make me enjoy a FPS. If I am playing a FPS and my hands are on the control I expect to be on edge waiting to shoot something, or in the process of shooting something, not passively wondering around picking up things and flinging them with my gravity gun just to stay the least be amused.

    When the action does finally get going it is pretty good, but not great. After roughly an hour of gameplay there has been very little in terms of “oh my god!” action or suspense. And quite frankly if a FPS (especially one that was made famous for the mood it set and they way it presented itself) isn’t delivering action or suspense at steady intervals then what is the point? I have also not encountered any puzzle elements yet that would have added some challenge to the game. Instead I am “treated” to little nuggets of action in between long “interactive cut-scenes”.

    This is not to say that the game is bad; it is actually very, very good from a design point of view and I am very interested (and invested since I have been playing these games for years now) in the continuation of the story. But I just feel like this game should offer more in terms of gameplay and fun at this point. I mean how many shooters does it take more than an hour into to really get the action going? When action does finally arrive however, I can’t help but feel a strange sense of deja-vu. Like I have played the same thing many times before. Maybe I can only be amused by the same tricks and repetitive looking scenery for so long. I was excited to see that the game looked like it was going to take place outside more (a nice departure from the usual dank cave, warehouse, or subway) but so far it has been more of the same in terms of landscape. Hopefully after another hour or so things will pick up, because as of right now it has been a pretty average gameplay expereice.

    This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Mar 5th, 2008 at 21:38:02.

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    Feb 16th, 2008 at 18:47:24     -    Katamari Damacy (PS2)

    GAMELOG 4

    ENRTY #2

    GAMEPLAY:
    After a little bit over another hour and a half with Katamari Damacy (KD) some of the issues that bother me less in the first hour are starting to bother me a lot more. The controls are really starting to get on my nerves, especially when the ball gets bigger (and to a lesser extent when it is smaller). They seem a little unresponsive, with cost you precious seconds, and moving the camera around it a pain. You don’t have direct control over it, instead you have to move your character and the camera adjusts in response. The confusing and very non-intuitive controls don’t exactly make this an easy task (some movement is done by using one, either the left or right it doesn’t matter, and some is done by pressing both in the same or opposite direction and push up move you left and down moves you right…easy right?).

    Speaking of the camera, it gets the way a good amount when the ball gets to relatively large size. Aside from it being hard to see what is in front of you (making it hard to avoid hazards that will knock objects off your ball and cost you time) it often gets caught inside a building or behind a wall, so you are left rolling around blindly until it adjusts itself. Very frustrating to say the least. Inconstancies in the game world are also starting to make me frustrated. Why can I pick up a penguin but not a barrel that is clearly smaller than the penguin? Since mass seems to have nothing to do with gameplay (and if it does why is there only an indicator that measures the size of the ball and not its mass?) I don’t understand what is the problem.

    With that said the game is still very fun. I am really starting to get into now that I start with a large ball in each level and I can now roll up really big things (like people, benches, fences, vending machines, etc). Interestingly enough some of the levels seem to have an almost racing like feel to them, which I find pretty fun. Getting the ball up to high speeds and plowing through a bunch of objects (while picking them up of course) while avoiding obstacles that would cost you time and knock objects off the ball is really fun.

    The game is also still very rewarding in terms of pure gameplay (of course the cut scenes and dialog are still horrible) but I have stumbled upon something that has actually decreased my enjoyment of the game somewhat. After having to repeat a level a few times I realized that the goal to this game pretty much boils down to memorizing the “best path” in a level (i.e, figure out where to go to pick up small stuff for your ball then get it to a certain size, then move on to the area with the next biggest stuff, and so on). I guess its nothing major, but once I realized this it did affect my enjoyment of the game quite a bit. Still a fun game, but not as fun as before when I was just cruising around and picking things up having a blast getting my ball bigger and bigger.

    DESIGN:
    KD is a very unique gameplay experience and has an equally unique set of design characteristics. I’ll start with the superficial stuff, the visual look and the sound. The in game music and sound effects are nothing special, nor are they bad, They do fit the game quite well however. The half-pop-half-elevator music sound track fits the tone of the game perfectly; it is quirky, lighthearted, and fun. Also, it does a good job of blending into the background of the game and keeping the gameplay relaxing and never too tense. The visuals also set a clear tone for the game. Its is not suppose to be a “serious” game at all. Judging from the art style I would say that it is not even suppose to make much sense. The cartoony visuals are an excellent fit for a game that clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is interesting to note, that even thought the core gameplay mechanic is so fun, I don’t think that it would work with any other visual style quite as well. I can’t picture this game being half as fun if it was photo-realistic or had some kind of dark/grimy art direction that took itself too seriously.

    As mention in my first gamelog, this game isn’t about story, or character or plot it is all about the core gameplay mechanic of rolling you ball around and adding to it. The entire game is naturally build around this mechanic and almost all aspects of the game are executed nearly flawlessly.

    Simply put, all the levels (which in turn constitute the entire game) that I have played so far as excellent and very well though out. Every time a level starts there are sections that you cannot access because your ball is too small. So you roll around collecting what you need to get it bigger. But once your ball is a certain size areas of the game that were once easily accessible to you before now become difficult to navigate or impossible to get into because of the size of your ball. For example, navigating you ball around a tight area like a little alley isn’t too hard until it is the size of a small house. Then it becomes almost impossible and you lose of lot of time having to do it.

    So as one the challenge of getting your ball bigger gets easier (the bigger it is the easier it is to pick up other large things) the challenge of navigating your ball through the environment gets harder. This trade off promotes strategy (or memorizing the best path if you have played the level before) and replay since you always want to beat your best time. This inverse relationship is also where most of the challenge in the game comes from. And despite it sounding deceptively simple, it is quite frustrating and requires a lot of coordination and in advance planning.

    The reward system is also very satisfying and again is derived directly from the gameplay. To be more precise, the reward system IS the gameplay. Other than the time restriction (beating your best) and the arbitrary “collection” (a little gallery of the items you have collected) there is no other reward except for the satisfaction you get from making your ball bigger and bigger and being able to roll up larger and larger items. It is extremely satisfying to roll up cows, cars, people, street signs, and other large items that we in life generally perceive as being “bigger” than us and can’t directly manipulate in real life. It is very fun to get to treat these things as toys that you can manipulate and collect.

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    Feb 15th, 2008 at 23:11:37     -    Katamari Damacy (PS2)

    GAMELOG 4

    ENTRY #1

    SUMMARY:
    Katamari Damacy (KD) can best be described as puzzle game (though I wouldn’t say it fits into any genre very well). The object is to roll a ball around an environment, picking up objects that are small enough to get stuck to the ball along the way. The goal is to get the ball bigger and bigger, by gathering larger and larger items, until its diameter is bigger than a certain preset lower bound (given to the player at the begging of the level). The puzzle aspect comes from the fact that you have a time limit to complete your goal and you much pick the best “path” to win (or beat your best time).

    GAMEPLAY:
    The first hurdle for me to get into this game came in the form of the controls. They are fine once you get use to them, but they are not that intuitive nor the best set up that I think could have been used in a game like this. The controls, at first and to a lesser degree still do, feel more like a hindrance to gameplay rather than an efficient way to communicate with the action on the screen.

    The second hurdle was the story and dialog. While some of the random cut-scenes that advance the paper thin narrative are slightly amusing, the dialog that you have to have with this “space king” (your father and the guy that gives you your time limits, ball size, and tips) is mind numbing and dumb. I cringe every time I am forced to go through them (luckily I found out that most, but not all, are skip-able) and they break up the fun way too much. The fact that I have to sit through bad puns and some boring cut scene of a “star being placed back in the sky” (which is the basically a synopsis of the paper thin narrative I mentioned earlier) is a major downer on my fun factor.

    But, lets be honest, the story and the dialog are just window dressing. This game is about one thing: the core gameplay mechanic. And that is where this game truly shines. The core gameplay mechanic is of course the rolling of the ball and getting things to stick to it. This simple little action offers a ton of fun, strategy and rewards. When you start out the ball is pretty small, so you can’t pick up much (maybe some thumb tacks or dice) and are pretty limited in your actions and it can be a little frustrating how little of the world that you can interact with (i.e., pick up). The main goal at this point in the game is to collect as much little stuff as possible while avoiding large hazards (like cats, people, and toy cars all of which knock items off your ball and make it smaller) all the while upgrading your balls size to allow you to pick up larger and larger items.

    However, once you get a decent size ball going the game is insanely fun and the world becomes your oyster. All those things that were once hazards that were to be avoided (chairs, cats, TVs, toy cars, etc) are now fodder to make your ball bigger. There is something very satisfying to me about being kicked around by a cat one minute and having it run in hear of my massive ball only to be sucked up by it a minute latter. Getting revenge: always a fun gameplay element in my book. And in generally I feel very rewarded when I am able to capture bigger and bigger items in my ball that started out life no bigger than a baseball. In fact, I am compelled while playing to see how much more stuff I can get stuck to my ball. That is I want to keep playing just to see what I can roll up next. In my last level before calling it quits to right this up I finally got it big enough to roll up a person, and I know that its only going to get bigger and better from here on out.

    Aside from actually making me want to play more as I get deeper and deeper into the game, I also find myself “in the zone” when playing KD (which is always huge plus and a sign of a great game in my book). As the ball grows you lose yourself more and more in the game as you plow through a house (or whatever the level might be) and just become “one with the game”. This a truly great feeling, and KD is a truly great game with a novel premise and great gameplay.

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