Mar 6th, 2008 at 05:10:31 - Falcon 4.0: Allied Force (PC)
There is, in fact, no way to do justice to the complexity of Falcon in something as short as this gamelog. My previous depiction in the last gameplay section only scratches a small part of the surface of the types of operations going on in the dynamic campaign. I didn't take into account, for example, the fact that the game engine also has A.I. for each of the ground units that move around in the theater or that even while I am not flying, the game will continue to carry out the war while missions are flown by the A.I. But I digress. There are just too many things to talk about regarding the complexity of the game and the flight controls. Sometimes it is easier to just sit back and watch the computer fight the war with little or no human player involvement. I found myself doing that quite often.
While not flying, the player can also watch all of what is going on throughout the battlefield from an overhead map of the entire theater. The player is also afforded a certain degree of control over the battlefield as the player can create new missions and assign any available aircraft from any squadron to fly them, much in the same way that the game engine normally does automatically. If the player so chose, he could turn off the automatic generation of missions and create them all himself as he sees fit to winning the campaign. Due to the complex synthesis of the entire campaign situation that is required to generate the hundreds of missions actually needed to run a successful campaign, such micromanagement is not advisable. A more effective technique of exercising control over the war is to simply assign priority levels to the different types of targets (aircraft, armor, bridges, radars, etc) and regions of the map.
All the while, there are all sorts of statistical information available to the player. Details about every single flight package can be viewed and changed. All friendly and visible enemy air units, ground units, and structures can be seen on the map represented by icons and their positions will be updated as time progresses. Supply levels, relative power graphs, and radio live radio chatter can all be accessed and heard from the campaign planning mode. If so desired, a player could leave the game running for 2 weeks straight and two weeks worth of campaign operations would be carried out autonomously, with the player receiving news updates as if from the position of a war planner. All of these elements make Falcon much more than a flight simulator, but a tactical war simulator.
Falcon 4.0: AF is actually a re-release of the 1998 game Falcon 4.0. Many of the elements in the game have changed little from the original release, and most of what has changed between the 1998 and 2005 releases relate to stability. The new content in the game was developed mostly by members of the community who added modifications to the game and were subsequently hired by the company to update it. With all of that in mind, the original release of Falcon 4.0 was truly ahead of its time. Even the parts of the game that received only minor upgrades still show remarkable design quality, namely the terrain mapping. The terrain used real satellite images of Korea to cover the landscape in the game. By today's standards, the images used aren't particularly high resolution and are probably the graphical weak point of the game today. But the sheer expanse of the gameworld and the amount of terrain covered are design elements that cannot be ignored.
The gameworld in the Korean theater is modeled to be the actual size of the Korean peninsula, using nautical mile measurements to calculate distance. If it would take 30 minutes to fly at cruise speed in an F-16 from Seoul to Pyongyang, it would take 30 minutes in the game and the corresponding distance would be traversed in the game's nautical mile measurement. Luckily, the player needn't sit through 30 minutes of flight to a destination, which can sometimes be boring especially if the flight is an uneventful air patrol over friendly territory. Instead, the player has the option of speeding up time to 64x the current rate.
Another significant design element is the way in which the game world is presented. Once the player enters the cockpit, there are no loading screens and the player can fly from one end of korea to the next. There are tons of air traffic, ground traffic, and landmarks to be seen. and all of the terrain and objects in the game world will be rendered as they are come across. This gives the sense of the game taking place in a massive, continuous game world the size of an actual country.
There are also changes in the weather patterns which will affect where and when there will be clouds or haze and what altitude and thickness it will appear. This design element not only adds a layer of difficulty to flying safely, but also creates breathtaking visuals. Despite all of the praise I gave to gameplay, sometimes I found it satisfying to fly just to see the landscape from 70,000 feet in the sky and to simply admire the well rendered 3D plane models, jet streams, and aerobatic maneuvers. There is no doubt that the design of the game world and the game objects themselves greatly add to the quality of this title.
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Mar 6th, 2008 at 04:16:30 - Falcon 4.0: Allied Force (PC)
Falcon 4.0: Allied Force is a combat flight simulator that sticks you in the cockpit of an F-16. The game is unique in that it simulates both air combat as well as running a full scale war in the background. Players chose from a variety of combat missions that are generated on the fly by the dynamic game engine, leading to a fresh and unique experience each flight. The 700+ Page game manual and accurately modeled avionics systems won't appeal to most gamers, unfortunately, and the steep learning curve will drive away all but the most dedicated flight sim enthusiasts.
For me, however, just knowing that I may never actually master this game, especially with all of the realism and difficulty settings set to maximum, makes the game that much more appealing. Since there is no real story line in this game, the wealth of content along with assurance that there will always be some aspect of the gameplay left to uncover and master are what keep the game fresh and exciting.
There are two main theaters of operations that the game can be played in: Korea and the Balkans. Within each theater are three playable campaigns with different victory conditions for each one. In the Korean theater, the adversary is a fictional and somewhat well equipped North Korea who has broken peace and attacked South Korea. You fly for the United States, which has stepped into the theater to help South Korea repel the invasion.
The real hallmark of this game is it's dynamic campaign engine. Essentially, the game generates a campaign and coordinates the movements of hundreds or thousands of units within a scale model of the Korean peninsula or the Balkans in real time. Just to give a glimpse of the depth of what the game engine is doing, there are nearly 200 different airbases in the game amongst friendlies and foes, each of which is home to at least one squadron. Each individual squadron will have a number of aircraft, for example 24 F-16s, that can be dispatched to fly missions. At the onset of the campaign, my F-16 squadron is given a list of missions with different take off times, priority levels, destinations, and targets. In this instance I chose a SEAD mission. My objective is to suppress enemy air defenses around Pyongyang so that friendly aircraft can fly missions over enemy territory with less risk of getting shot down. The mission calls for a flight of 4 F-16s from my squadron. So I load my aircraft with the appropriate armament of anti-radar missiles needed to successfully complete the mission, and take off, making sure to have proper clearance from air traffic control so that I don't get court martialed.
Half way into my mission, and still over 100 nautical miles away from my destination, my flight of 4 F-16's is joined by a flight of 4 F-15s from a Fighter Squadron stationed in Seoul. We are in fact all part of a larger package of aircraft. Since I am the only human player in this campaign, the other aircraft in the package, including the ones in my flight, are flown by complex A.I. who will follow your flight patterns and commands. My flight's objective is to clear enemy air defenses while the F-15s are tasked with escorting me to the target and fending off enemy fighters. An additional element in the package is a flight of 2 F-16s, tasked with photographing the bomb damage to see how well my SEAD mission went. If my mission were to fail and the recon element of the package reported that the target was still in tact, the game engine might generate followup SEAD missions.
The outcome of all missions are taken into account by the game engine which it uses to form an understanding of how the campaign is progressing so that it can generate appropriate additional missions. Now imagine that at any given time during the peak of the campaign there could be 50 or 100 such packages being flown by both friend and foe, with missions ranging from airlifting troops and supplies across Korea to escorting a tanker plane as it loiters on the battlefield waiting to refuel other planes. Did I mention all of this is happening in real time?
This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Mar 6th, 2008 at 04:17:05.
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Feb 21st, 2008 at 04:00:40 - Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
Being required to solve puzzles as to how a particular colossus should be defeated is challenging and very involving. To keep the challenge fresh and prevent the game from being too repetitive after having to defeat 16 colossi, the game adds in a few simple mechanics to make the player focus his strategy. Grabbing and holding on to the fur on a colossus is not as simple as it sounds as the player can only hold on for a limited amount of time before he falls off. There is, in fact, a "grip meter" that gauges how long a player can stay held on to the fur. This meter can be supplemented and the time to hold on extended by hunting non-agressive critters. If the player is to fall off, he will either fall to the ground, accruing damage as he does so, or he might get a chance to land on some parts of the colossus' structure that allow him to stand upright and regain some of the grip meter.
The ability to rebound somewhat from a fall, either by grabbing some more fur or by landing on one of these safe standing spots, can really come in handy when getting up onto the colossus itself was an arduous challenge. Sometimes, getting onto a colossus would require that the player accurately time a jump off horseback onto a moving patch of fur on the colossus' leg, jumping onto the wing of a massive flying colossus as it dives down at you, or grabbing on to the tail of a giant eel-like swimming beast before it gets a chance to dive under water again, etc. But there are many situations where you simply can't hold on and can't land anywhere safe, forcing you to fall completely off and have to try and mount the colossus again. Having to repeat this over again can become quite frustrating, especially if having to get onto the colossus in the first place involved one of the aforementioned strategies.
On top of figuring out how to grab on, the player must also avoid being killed. These colossi are large and for the most part, slow, but if they land one hit on you, it might be game over. Taking damage can be a result of simple carelessness and getting trampled on, falling a great distance, or being actively attacked by one of the colossi.
One such colossi wields a sword so large and has such a lengthy wind up to strike phase that it would seem impossible to actually be hit by it in the 5 full seconds it takes for the thing to actually swing at you. But even a near miss can do devastating sums of damage to you as the ground around the impact spot will buckle up and still send you flying. Even so, the awesome spectacle of seeing the equivalent of a city block length of sword swung down at you from the sky is a sight to behold. This brings me to another fantastic aspect of this game: it's visual appeal.
Much of the time I played the game, I was simply awestricken by the environment. The world you must travel through is beautiful and expansive with rolling fields and ranges of hills and mountains to gaze at. A particular thrilling visual experience is found while riding the back of a flying colossus. Being able to see the scenery fly past you at mach speeds while you stab your sword into the back of a giant flying beast instills in you the sense that you are fighting an unfathomably monumental battle.
The design of the game greatly adds to this sense of grandeur by featuring impressive cutscenes when colossi are on scene with equally epic musical scores to set the mood. The use of camera angles to depict the relative size difference between the player and the colossi truly makes you feel like you are a helpless mortal pitted against the most beastly of foes. Being able to create a fun and interesting game with the unique game mechanics found in Shadow of the Colossus is powerful as it is. This game takes it a step further and uses very effective design elements to make this game worthy of it's name.
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Feb 21st, 2008 at 03:18:02 - Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
In Shadow of the Colossus, my task is to find and defeat several enormous giants in order to free the soul of a sacrificed girl. Aside from these giants, called Colossi, there are no other adversaries in the game to fight. The game does not provide a great detail of backstory as to why I am doing as I do and it doesn't explicitly outline the extent of my objectives from the start. In this context, the game presents itself as simplistic and the objectives, trivial. I assure you, however, that despite it's seemingly unelaborate outer appearance, the intricacies in the game content and the strategies required to successfully defeat the colossi create a tremendously enjoyable game experience. The demand for puzzle solving skills and dexterity combined with a beautifully immersive expanse of a gameworld make Shadow of the Colossus a game unlike any other I've played before and an instant classic.
The game is quick to put the player directly into the action of the game with very little introduction, and if you're like me and don't like to read manuals or instructions, this can create a very confusing first few minutes of gameplay. To become familiar with the the controls, the first thing the player must do is traverse a sort of mini-course involving such actions as riding a horse, climbing vine covered walls, and jumping onto ledges. All of these actions will become crucial to master in order to defeat the colossi as you encounter them.
Eventually, the player makes his way to an open field where suddenly a giant club-wielding colossus appears on the scene. As I previously mentioned, I had no idea at this point how to go about defeating a colossus. My character is here armed with a meager sword and a bow and I somehow need to take down an adversary the size of a large office building who can crush me simply by stepping on me, or worse, demolishing me with it's elephant of a war club.
After combining my brain power with that of nearby friends, we discover that the trick to defeating these colossi is to climb onto them and look for weak points. This colossus, much like ones found later in the game, have patches of fur dispersed all over it's body/structure (whatever it actually is) which can be climbed on much like the vine covered walls early in the game. The trick is to find a safe way to grab onto the fur without being crushed and then climbing your way to the weak points on the colossus. Once discovered, you must then stab your sword into the weak point to do damage to the colossus until it is defeated.
The strategy to defeating each colossus in the game follows these basic actions, with each successive encounter being more difficult than the previous one. Once a colossus is beat, the player is magically transported back to the temple from which the game began, and after a brief cutscene, he must travel to find the next colossus. Eventually, the player must defeat colossi that can, for example, fly in the air, swim under water, or even buck and sway with such intensity that the character actually loses his grip and flies off. Finding the weakpoints becomes increasingly nontrivial and being able to access them safely becomes a more demanding challenge likewise. Furthermore, finding the next colossus by traversing the landscape and bypassing obstacles adds to the complexity of the game.
This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Feb 21st, 2008 at 03:18:56.
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