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    Mar 7th, 2008 at 09:04:45     -    Guitar Hero II (PS2)

    Gamelog 2:

    Having put some decent hours into Guitar Hero II, I found that while the challenges provided by the varying song difficulties provided ample skill challenge, the song selection was rather meager and the limited breadth of music genre left me aurally bored after a while. A larger library of songs with a wider breadth of genres of music using the guitar might have made the game provide more hours of enjoyment in this regard. Since only the most dedicated players are willing to play to purely for the skill mastery, it is unlikely that most players will progress to the 4th difficulty level, if not the 3rd (in terms of player skill), before setting the game aside leaving a good portion of the potential game play inaccessible to the player due to the time required to gain the skill to play at higher difficulty levels.
    There are 30 songs in the initial library, and 15 some unlockable songs. Averaging most songs at around 4-5 minutes, playing through every song would take roughly 3-4 hours. Granted that most players would probably require at least a few extra song attempts to get the hang of the game and hone their skills to a decent level (unless they’d already had previous experience from the first Guitar Hero game), and probably a considerable number of hours could be put into multi-player competition; however, regardless, this yields comparatively few hours of game play to reach a content exhaustion within the limit of player average player interest compared to other games that I’ve played.

    There have been quite a few different beat and rhythm games that have been made, with sequels and spin-offs of all sorts. The unique pseudo-guitar controller used for Guitar Hero games utilizes the dexterity of the player’s fingers on both hands to press the chord buttons and strum the toggle switch. The controller’s design requires the player to use coordination and motor skills similar to those used for actually playing a guitar. This brings the game play experience closer to the experience being pseudo-simulated by the game, much like how Dance Dance Revolution (and similar dance) games use a dance pad to detect dance steps.
    Following the nature of music, the core game mechanic utilizes pre-defined note-charts—effectively equivalent to specifically designed levels using notes and extended chords instead of platforms, obstacles, and landscapes. The use of pre-designed note charts thus rules out the possibility of any form of emergent gameplay, forcing the player through the designed “level” at a pre-determined rate, much like shmups, but with a much more limited range of input possibilities, since there are 5 notes with a 2 binary values based on the input: chord button depression and strum. However, the dual input usage—chord button and strum switch—gives Guitar Hero much more depth than most beat and rhythm games, which have only 1 binary value for each input type (step, note, etc.). The dual input usage allows the game to make use of different input combinations, such as holding down chord buttons and strumming while holding the chord. Thus the game play of Guitar Hero is several levels of complexity above the simple pattern recognition and motor-function mapping of single-tier structure beat and rhythm games such as DDR. This control complexity is effectively implemented through well-designed note-charts for each song and difficulty, using more difficult, complex input patterns in the note-charts for higher difficulty levels, giving Guitar Hero II a good difficulty curve.

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    Mar 5th, 2008 at 13:28:06     -    Guitar Hero II (PS2)

    Game log 1

    In Guitar Hero II, the player uses a guitar-shaped controller to symbolically emulate the playing of a guitar through the pressing buttons (representing chord finger positions) and toggling of a switch (in place of strumming the guitar strings) in time to a moving chart of notes synchronized to a song. The player must press the corresponding chord buttons on the controller and ‘strum’ the toggle switch timed correctly as the notes move down the screen, timing the ‘playing’ of the corresponding notes as they reach the bottom of the screen to successfully ‘play’ the song. The objective of the game is thus to hit as many notes as possible in order to ‘pass’ the song, and further more, score as many points as possible.

    When picking up the controller for the first time, I realized that there were 5 chord buttons on the neck of the guitar controller, and that it would require considerable skill to quickly execute a combination of button presses, particularly since the shorter 2 fingers or the hand are generally not known for their dexterity. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when I started playing and discovered that the easiest level difficulty of play required the use of only the top 3 buttons (and thus 3 fingers on the chord buttons). In playing through the tutorial and a number of songs in career mode, I was able in get attuned to the game and acquire a decent level of skill as the songs got more difficult.
    After a while, thinking that I effectively mastered the easy difficulty, I skipped up to medium, which utilized the fourth chord button and presented considerably more challenging note charts. Consequently, I had to replay songs a few time before I got the hang of the more advanced input techniques required to pass these songs, such as keeping one or more buttons depressed during a streak of repeated notes, strumming the toggle switch both up and down when needed for rapid input, and strumming only once for certain indicated slews of notes. I thought that the acquisition of these skills to reach higher difficulties was well curved through the career mode, keeping me inclined to continue playing rather than giving up because the scale of difficulty was steep enough to provide a challenge, but easy enough to make progress on without significant punishment for failure. This kept the game both fun and challenging to play.
    After a while of play, I realized that I had quite a few credits to throw down in the unlock shop, where I purchased the two unlockable characters and a few songs. I then changed the character I was playing with to the grim reaper, and realized how relatively pointless this was. While the visual graphic and animations were different for each character, since the player can’t afford to look at the animated character and crowd in the background during most of the game (since the player must focus on reading the notes of the song), there is little to no significance of the selecting of characters and customization of guitar to play with in career mode. While this kind of character customization feature may attract some people, I personally was not entertained by it, probably because I wasn’t drawn to the particular ‘rock’ artistic style used in the game. I felt the character customization might have had a greater impact if the game utilized character uniqueness in some way, but the structure of the Guitar Hero II effectively removed any and all story elements requiring identity, making the characters in the game little more than moving background animation to go with the song playing, much like the character(s) dancing in the background for DDR games.

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    Feb 21st, 2008 at 12:52:12     -    Soul Caliber III (PS2)

    game log 2


    Playing for a while longer, I was able to sample a bit of every game play mode of Soul Calibur III. From what I was able to play through, I found the Chronicles of the Sword mode to be the most interesting and addictive to play through. The standard arena and tournament combat modes are the classic basis of most fighting games, and offered little in terms of interesting new elements of game design to study. The "Tales of Souls" game mode was essentially the classic lame "story-line mode" using a weak variant of the general background storyline centered around the specific character you choose to play through with, loosely using the storyline as an excuse to string together a series of fights with a sad excuse for cutscenes in between certain battles, otherwise offering little new game play aspects to explore.
    The Chronicles of the Sword game mode, however threw together a much more interesting story line surrounding a custom player avatar, which can be customized using unlockable and purchasable items from the in-game item shop. The customizable character adds a greater sense of player involvement and closer connection to the otherwise distant storyline of the game. Additionally, I found the RPG and RTS elements of Chronicles of the Sword mode to be a unique and interesting addition to the game, giving me a much stronger desire to keep playing to unlock more unlockables (as opposed to a continuous stream of 1 vs. 1 battles against seemingly arbitrary enemies, such as in the "story mode." Without it, I could care less for the background of Soul Calibur III, as there are so many different characters that understanding the entire story by piecing together of the entire story by playing through each storyline seems like too much a chore to bother doing. Further more, since some of the characters are a complete nightmare to try and play with (due to balancing issues, discussed further down), it's even more deterring, in a certain sense.


    In terms of design, I came to appreciate the control set up, which enabled the player to quickly press combinations of keys much more easily by mapping 2 of the 4 attack buttons to the L1 and R1 triggers (by default setting, too). Although not an immediately intuitive way to think of a control scheme for effectively unleashing button combinations, but after a while it really clicked. However, despite the effectiveness of the control scheme, I discovered a strong imbalance in the game's characters.

    The way the some of the character's move sets (compared to others) were designed is rather poor. While the move sets for "non-standard" weapons (such as the scythe, hoop-blade, and tambourines) are rather creative and interesting, not all move sets are created equal. I found the scythe especially difficult to work with, getting every other move blocked--if I can even make a move before being continuously pounded into the ground again after getting up--because the weapon's attack speed is so damn slow. I went through numerous different strategies of varying aggression, defense, and evasion, and I kept coming to the same conclusion: The balance between weapon speed, range, and power is not well balanced with all weapons. Some weapons are extremely easy to use and very powerful while others have powerful combos "in theory," but are practically useless because they can't effectively engage the opponent to begin with.

    However, of the characters whose move sets were well designed, the ease of use is excellent, with a smooth progression from basic moves that are easy to use to more difficult but effective combos for more advanced players to use, thus providing a decent library of attacks, but not too extensive such that the move set is ample enough for advanced players while not being overwhelming for beginners. What is unfortunate is the mismatch of difficult-to-use characters thrown in with easy to use characters, making it difficult to know (without prior experience) which characters are apt for button-mashing for 2-player mode and which characters are impossible to use for anything. A smaller library of all well-refined characters would be much better than a large mish-mash library of good and poorly refined characters. The inclusion of characters that are impossible to use simply due to balance issues is a big failure in the testing department in my opinion.

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    Feb 21st, 2008 at 11:58:39     -    Soul Caliber III (PS2)

    game log 1


    In Soul Calibur III, the player controls an avatar in a 3D environment (populated w/ the player's avatar and the avatar of a single opponent at any given point in time), moving their avatar and attacking the opponent's avatar to deplete their opponent's health, thereby defeating their opponent. The player must also attempt to block or evade the attacks of the opponent's avatar to prevent their own health from being depleted prior to depleting the opponent's health. Thus, the objective of the game is to deplete the opponent's health before your health is depleted by the opponent by executing a series of strategically planned actions with your game avatar. Each successive time period of attempting to deplete the enemy's health before your health is depleted is called a round; there may be as few as only 1 round of play, or as many as desired until a winner is decided. While there are a number of different modes of game play in Soul Calibur III, all of them implement this core game mechanic, just in slightly different ways. Thus, based on the core game mechanic, one could classify Soul Calibur III as a 2-player fighting game.


    When first playing the game, I was a bit confused and aggravated at first while trying to pick up and learn the controls of the game. I found the ABGK control labeling system used in the options and tutorial to represent the different commands in the game to be very confusing and misleading, as they seem to hold no representative symbolism of their corresponding functions in the game (aside from the original labels on the buttons from the original arcade version).

    After a while I finally gave up trying to memorize it, and started playing 2 playerable to play w/ a friend. After playing for a while, I found myself (while trying to play strategically) continually losing to my friend who was just randomly mashing buttons. This really annoyed me, especially since he was complaining to me about how incredibly boring it was and how he couldn't believe that I'd have to button-mash for at least 2 hours in order to do a game-log assignment on the game. My friend found the experience very boring, and about 3-4 games loaded with bad-mouthing, he declared he was bored and done with the game and left me to keep playing by myself. While I didn't find the game boring, it certainly gave me a new perspective as to how one could percieve the game as not really delivering that much excitement.

    Personally, I found the game interesting because I found it challenging to discover new combos and strategies to defeat different opponents (in this case, AI opponents since my friend ditched me). While I was able to get by mashing buttons when playing against my friend, such a button-mashing "strategy" was completely ineffective against the AI, which used intelligent move combinations and strategies against me, requiring me to learn how to block and time moves well in order to defeat the AI driven opponents.

    From the experience I had playing Soul Calibur III, I discovered that whether this kind of challenge will actually equate to enjoyment and invoke continued interest in the player, is completely subjective and dependant on the player(s). While the game utilizes each game mode to provide a different kind of challenge to the player using the same core game mechanic, if the core game mechanic does not appeal to the player, then it is likely that the player will not derive much (if not any) enjoyment from the game. Thus, since Soul Calibur III has a very weak story line, all of the merit of entertainment rides of the player's attraction to the core game mechanic and the technical challenge in mastering the controls and memorizing the possible combos, severely restricting the effective audience of the game.

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    1Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2)Played occasionally
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