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    Mar 7th, 2008 at 20:57:39     -    Façade (PC)

    Gameplay

    After trying my hardest to play the game the "real" way, i.e., react as I would if I were actually in the situation, and finding myself either ignored or punished by the characters, I opted for the "fun" way on subsequent plays. I've tested out nearly every curse word, every innuendo, and every ludicrous thing I could think of. Interestingly, not only does Trip and Grace's apartment lack a bathroom, they don't even seem to know what one is. I only succeeded once in convincing them to say something about food, but the AI cut the line short due to conflicting reactions, so I may never know if you can get them to feed you. I spent one run through standing in the hallway, insisting that THEY come to ME, instead of the other way around. Trip came out of the apartment, picked me up, and carried me to the front door, just so he could slam it on me. Oh also, if you botch up the first line, as I mentioned in the previous post, and get the door slammed on you, if you're fast you can rush into the apartment before the terrible collision detection catches up to you, and, if you so wish, the evening can proceed normally from there. But who would wish that?

    The reason why playing this way is more fun than playing the real way, the bizarre reactions of the characters aside, is because the real way involves a completely linear progression that the night HAS to follow. There is some variation in what the characters say, independent of the player's choices, and when exactly each stage happens, but the distinction between each phase is so distinct the game might as well be broken up into levels. But I suppose that would break the Facade.

    Any attempts to make real small talk, talk about yourself, or shift the subject at all from the vapid, predictable drama the characters engage in is met with confusion, frustration, or ignoring, on the part of the characters. The fact that the story progresses so quickly (an entire run through takes about 5-10 minutes, which means by minute 2, you're already knee deep in their emotional garbage), makes it feel even more unnatural. I tried my best on my first run through to claim myself neutral, stated clearly that the conversation was making me uncomfortable, and that we should talk about something else. Trip's response was "What? Come on, we're talking about Grace right now. Let's stay focused on the issue at hand."

    Design

    This game, on the surface, seems like something groundbreaking. "The computer actually listens to you, and exerts social reasoning!?" The sad truth is that, yes, that WOULD be groundbreaking, but that's not what's happening here. When the designer of this game gave us a lecture on narrative, he insisted that the right way of going about telling a story was not with "pixel collision" triggering off pregenerated elements of story, and that his game was the first move away from that paradigm. Yet all he's done is replace "pixel collision" with keyword collision. Instead of "If player kills X, reveal story element Y," or "If player enters room Y, reveal story element Z," it's "If player types 'sex,' play offended reaction." Granted, this is a more complex if-then statement, because the computer has to decide first if the character is offended, then which line of dialogue they've progressed to, and then how the overall story is effected by this. But the fact remains that each of these elements is pregenerated, and simply awaiting the correct collision to play them on the screen.

    Not to mention the fact that this isn't even a new idea. Text based games, or interactive fiction, is one of the oldest kinds of video games. If this game were not graphical (and to be honest the characters are so ugly and the movement of your avatar so clumsy I almost wish it weren't) then it would bring nothing new to the table. Indeed, it would probably be blasted, because the quality of the fiction is so terrible. It doesn't even feel interactive. It's more like an "observed fiction" with occasional, optional interjections by the observer.

    The influence you have on the story is so limited that the characters actually verbally sum it up for you at the end of the night. "You said I suck, you said Grace is stupid, you said 'Yes' (this is one is actually in there--a response to a question you're asked that is constantly and awkwardly referred to in this exact way: "Remember when you said 'Yes'?" "So anyway, about the fact that you said 'Yes.'") This completely transparent narrative "influence," means this game essentially boils down to a "choose your own adventure," where the "adventure" is the mundane at best, annoying and self-involved most of the time, marriage of some rich, spoiled, American nobodies.

    I'm going to echo what I said about Shenmue here--we have a game that wants to be story-centric, and character driven, with a boring, broken story, about boring, stock characters. However, while I could say of Shenmue that at least the new elements that game introduced helped develop the state of video games as a whole, I certainly hope that future games will only use the somewhat unique thing Facade has to offer (its conversation engine) as an example of how NOT to execute social or dramatic interaction.

    This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Mar 7th, 2008 at 21:13:19.

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    Mar 7th, 2008 at 16:50:46     -    Façade (PC)

    Summary

    Facade, widely critically acclaimed and said to be "the future of video games," sets you in the role of yourself, going over to your friends Trip and Amy's house. The night quickly escalates into a melodramatic clash of personalities, and you are presented with the option of either patching up or destroying their marriage.

    Gameplay

    The first thing I noticed, besides the painful loadscreen, were the limitations on the game's core mechanic--typed entries. You can only fit about 5 words on a screen, and the computer doesn't recognize individual entries tied together. To boot, you have a window of maybe 5 to 10 seconds in which to make your responses, after which the characters usually move on, sometimes assuming a response, sometimes just stumbling over it awkwardly. Also, the logic of the engine is essentially limited to keyword sparsing, so any entry you make with the word "sex" in it, for example, regardless of context, evokes the same response from the characters.

    The engine is further limited by the number of key words it sparses for. I answered Trip's opening "how are you?" with "can't complain," what I assumed to be a perfectly understandable colloquialism, and was surprised that it evoked the stock "I'm confused, and kind of insulted by this" response. On this note, nearly all of the character reactions do feel very stock.

    An exception to this rule is the time when I answered Trip's opening "how are you?" with "just fine, loser," to which he made an unpleasant face, said nothing, and slammed the door on me, ending the game session.

    This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Mar 7th, 2008 at 17:06:17.

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    Feb 21st, 2008 at 01:41:08     -    Soul Calibur III (PS2)

    Gameplay

    So we all know that no one plays Soul Calibur for the Arcade mode. Arguably, highlights of the series have always been the vs mode and the story modes. The vs mode doesn't need much analysis; it feels just as balanced and tight as playing against the computer, but with a lot more smack talk and joking. And of course etiquette--if you know someone out of the ring, you have to jump off after them.

    But, personally, the story mode has always been what drew me in. The classic Tales of the Soul mode is back, wherein you can actually learn a thing or two about the dark, yet quirky, version of feudal Europe that the game takes place in through text, (often interactive) cutscenes, and regular fighting battles. Personally, I've been engrossed in the story of the Faust-like Siegfried since I first played Soul Blade, and I was overjoyed to find that his story has more or less come to dominate the central narrative.

    In addition to this is a new game mode, Chronicles of the Sword, which allows the player to create a new character and journey through a brand new fictional world and storyline completely unrelated to the original Soul Calibur world. The gameplay is something of bastard child between an RTS and a fighting game--you control an army of a few characters, and attempt to defend and capture nodes from the enemy army, with the option of resolving actual combat through fighting sequences identical to the arcade and vs mode battles. Similar to the other kind of "alternate" game modes in previous installments of the series, it's not the kind of deep experience that you'd expect from a standalone RTS, but it is pretty nice for something tacked onto a fighting game.

    Design

    As already discussed, the core engine is pretty well balanced, feels fast, intense, and violent. While I do give this game a hard time for being anime styled (what can I say, it's Namco) it's worth noting that Soul Calibur does try laudably to not stray too far into the zone of cartoonery that only the Japanese can truly understand. There's a good mixture of realistic fighting styles and moves, over the top anime style combat, and some dark twisted stuff thrown in for good measure (seriously, Voldo, how are you so amazing?) The "other" game modes provide an interesting alternative to the brainless button-mashing of the arcade and vs mode, though often get kind of repetitive.

    Perhaps the thing that sets this game apart from other fighters the most, or at least from previous installments of the series, is the character customization option. Being able to build a character from scratch is a refreshing change of pace from seeing the same vertically haired anime stereotypes leaping across the screen, and there is a special kind of satisfaction to seeing the character that you made yourself (often in your own likeness) putting the hurt on the stock cast or, better yet, the character someone else made themselves (often in their own likeness). Also, the fact that fact that you can unlock more items to customize your character, as well as earn the cash to buy those items, in virtually any game mode means that you can simultaneously try out new characters, explore new storylines, and practice and work your way towards making your pet character look as awesome as possible.

    While this game doesn't do anything revolutionary for the fighting genre as a whole, what it does, it does well.

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    Feb 21st, 2008 at 00:27:41     -    Soul Calibur III (PS2)

    Summary

    The Damned Sword returns, and once again there's a slew of feudal warriors willing to kill each other for possession of it. Insert anime logic to explain why this twice destroyed artifact STILL isn't gone for real, and why everyone thinks owning a sword will solve all their angsty social problems.

    Gameplay

    I fell in love with this franchise the first time I played Soul Blade, the PS1 port of Soul Calibur. I can't recall exactly, but I think the ad on the back of the jewel case of Soul Blade said something along the lines of "It's Tekken....with swords!" That tag is still a fairly apt description of the core gameplay mechanics of this game. Subsequent episodes boast neater graphics, more characters, and more varied game modes, but basically what we're looking at here is a 3D fighter where instead of throwing punches you're swinging axes and swords. And you know what? That's ok by me. Sometimes a better aesthetic is all you need. Of course, we all love the Enter the Dragonesque martial arts tournament thrown by the maniacal overlord, but, personally, a mythical quest of swords and souls is probably the only thing that can capture my attention more.

    That being said, the arcade mode is nothing to brag about. The little bits of story they try to squeeze in here usually end up being more confusing than anything else, but, you can basically get the gist of something about everyone wanting that sword again, but oh no it's cursed and you touch it and it eats your soul unless you're pure and blah blah blah. The point is that there's giant swords, and the combat is just as tight as any Tekken game, if not tighter. You really have to strategically time your blocks and throws to get the most effectiveness out of them, and strategically time your Soul Charge ability to make it look as awesome as possible.

    And the ∆ attack is still always the most overpowered one.

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