Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Video Games Of 2012

This is just a personal list of my favorite games of the year.  Usually when I think about what appeals to me as a gamer is how fun the game was and how immersed I was in the game world.

1. The Walking Dead
In terms of storytelling, Telltale's The Walking Dead was a game that kept me emotionally invested throughout the whole series and finally breaking me down when it all ended. It was more than just a game to me.
2. Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 was another game that kept me emotionally invested in the story from front to end. While the ending wasn't what I was expecting I enjoyed the game for what it accomplished. I also spent numerous hours in the surprisingly fun multiplayer which was well supported after the release of the game. It's a great package overall.
3. Far Cry 3
Late release for 2012 but It was probably the most fun I've had in a game in a few years.
4. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I'm a sucker for turn based strategy games and XCOM is one of those games that just sucked the hours away. It's a game I will probably come back to long after it's been released to waste away a few hours.
5. Binary Domain
Binary Domain, oh how it was delightfully strange. My love for this game comes from the many subsystems of the game, relationship building, upgrades, quirky comedy, taking out robot limbs, and etc. It's a fun game with a great setting and story.
6. Diablo III
I was a huge Diablo 1 and 2 fan and spent most of my high school and college life playing those two games. Diablo 3 didn't quite have the same impact but It was addicting and fun. The auction house was an interesting idea but only time will tell how much it diminishes the longevity of the game. I at least came out 300$ richer from selling items on the real money auction house.
7. Darksiders II
Darksiders 2 I enjoyed for it's combat and dungeon solving. It probably felt like too many other games but it combined them fairly well. Also i'm a big fan of the aesthetics of the Darksiders universe. Hopefully THQ gets back on it's feet and brings us another Darksiders in the future.
8. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
There was probably no other game I've logged the most hours into this year than World Of Warcraft. This expansion only reignited my addiction to this mmorpg after I was seemingly done with it for a year after Cataclysm. Blizzard continues to make meaningful changes to the gameplay systems(skill trees and abilities completely revamped in this expansion) and their storytelling only gets better. I don't know if I can truly stay way from World Of Warcraft again.
9. Dishonored
Dishonored is an excellent stealth action game. I was hoping there would be more meaningful story choices throughout the game but that didn't diminish how fun the game could be with the abilities you are given.
10. Guild Wars 2
I have Guild Wars 2 here in my top ten because I felt it's an important step forward in how future MMORPG's should approach their leveling systems. It was probably the most fun I've ever had leveling in an MMO as it encouraged exploration and participating in Dynamic Events that are so far different than the traditional questing system in an MMO as ways of progression. Also the buy to play business model is something that should be applauded as it shows the world that you don't need a subscription model to be successful in this genre.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Secret World drops subscription and $15 at Amazon

Just recently Funcom dropped the subscription fee on it's MMORPG The Secret World going with a Guild Wars 2 style business model of buy once and play free with optional cash shop purchases.  I played during the beta and the first month and found the game to be interesting in story and atmosphere but I stopped playing because I didn't want to keep the subscription fee going.

Good news is that instead of the normal $30 the game is selling for at retail, Amazon is selling the game for $15 for the Digital Download version of the game. Which is a really nice deal for anyone interested in the game. Limited time only as i think it's part of some weekend sale.

Below are just videos I took during the beta period.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Increasing Far Cry 3 PC Performance With A Few Tweaks

Far Cry 3 is a beautiful looking game but turning up to ULTRA DX11 settings killed my performance on my somewhat decent computer which at it's core is a I7 2600k clocked at 4.5ghz and a GTX 480.  Sure it's not top of the line but a capable system that eats up most games at their highest settings.  So I waded through the options available and found that shadows were the biggest culprit.  So there are two tweaks that I changed that would otherwise be a low 30 fps experience at ultra and increased my framerate to a consistent 50 fps which is much more playable at 1920x1200 resolution.
  • Turn off SSAO
  • Set shadows to HIGH
SSAO is usually a very nice looking graphical setting if implemented correctly but it looks downright ugly in Far Cry 3 because it sort of surrounds every object and human with an unnatural dark glow.  To turn SSAO off go into your documents folder and open GamerProfile.xml in notepad which is usually located in your C:\Users\profilename\my documents\my games\far cry 3\gamerprofile.xml and the variable you want to change is.
By default it's set 1 but to turn it off you want to change it to 0. If the setting by chance doesn't save, you might have to set the file to read only after you change it.
The next tweak is to change shadow quality to High.  There is a big performance drop when you put shadows on Very High and Ultra. Almost taking a 10+ fps dip going from high to very high.  You sort of miss out on some soft shadows and whatnot but I personally prefer a higher framerate.  So with these tweaks the frame rate is better while you can keep every other graphical setting at their Ultra default and it becomes a much more playable experience.

 1920x1200 Ultra Settings - Shadows=High  SSAO=Off  51 FPS

1920x1200 Ultra Setting Default - SSAO=SSAO 38 FPS

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Great Humble THQ Bundle!

There's just an insane deal going on right now at where THQ is currently offering Darksiders, Metro 2033, Red Faction Armageddon, Company of Heroes and expansions all up for 1$.  If you donate more than current average donation (sitting around 5$ atm)  you also get Saints Row: The Third as well.

These are all quality games and I would implore you to support THQ or offer a bigger split to charity for these great games.  You have about 13 days to do so by the time this post was made.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Few Things Nintendo Can Do To Improve The Wii U

I was an early adopter of the Wii U and if you were like me you were certainly excited to check it out but then you just got a small bitter taste in your mouth on how Nintendo is handling some things like the interface, their networking features, and games.  This is just a short list of what I would like to see improved.

1. It's SLOW!

One thing you will notice off the bat is at how responsive the interface and menu is on the console.   It should not take more than five seconds to navigate between menus.  This is a very serious problem if it isn't addressed in the next month or so.

2. Improve the Miiverse

The Miiverse is probably one of the most interesting parts of the Wii U.  The social features are pretty unique from a video game console standpoint and this could be pretty special if it is improved upon over the course of the console's life.  A few improvements I would like to see is the ability to assign friends to different groups.  Sort of like Google+ circles, where I can assign friends for example to "real life friends" and then make another group of "internet acquaintances".  The Miiverse should also just become the friend's list in general as the separation between friend's list and Miiverse just adds a bit confusion to the process.

3. Get Those Iconic Game Franchises Rolling In

This is a no brainer because I feel any early adopter bought the system for the promise of great first party games.  While New Super Mario Bros Wii U is a decent start I think more people would have preferred a brand new 3d platforming Mario game which is quite possibly in the works already.  Another Super Mario RPG would be out of left field but awesome at the same time but I doubt it will happen.  But Mario isn't the only franchise Nintendo has close to our hearts, here's just a quick list of franchises that need an appearance in the HD era.

  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Metroid Prime
  • Pokemon (RPG or another Snap game)
  • Star Fox
  • Kirby
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • Fire Emblem
  • Golden Sun
4. Better Quality Assurance Of Third Party Games
I think it is imperative for Nintendo to be stricter on third party ports.  It's tragic that games like Batman Arkham City and Epic Mickey 2 release which such broken framerate problems.  It leaves a sour taste in the consumer's mouth.  Third party support is important but at the same time you can't just release games in a somewhat problematic state.

5. Cater to Indie Studios
Everyone wants to see the eShop filled with a great selection of indie titles as $60 dollar titles aren't in everyone's budget.  So if Nintendo is accommodating to indie game studios by perhaps by loosening up certification requirements and making the patching process painless.  This could attract more developers to fill that shop with some great games.  
There is great potential in the Wii U, and hopefully Nintendo doesn't lose focus trying to find an identity for the console.  If they support it fully, get games rolling in at a steady pace then there isn't any cause for concern for the future of the console.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic is Now Free To Play

I've spent a good time playing SWTOR when it was subscription based and had a pretty good time with the game.   Is it still worth your time?   I would say yes it is worth playing if you are at all interested in a quality MMORPG.  I think some of the class stories are of Triple-A quality and if you were wanting to try playing SWTOR as a single player game you could actually do that and be satisfied.  There are some restrictions of course, but as far as I can see you can play through any class story up to the max level and get all that story content basically for free.

So cartel coins are the new currency which you use real currency to buy and I will post a bunch of screenshots below of what you can buy.   I think some of the stuff is reasonable, but stuff like... additional quickbars?  really?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Infinite / Unlimited Golden Keys in Borderlands 2 PC

If you are a Borderlands 2 PC player and you pre-ordered and have the premier club DLC.  Then you can access this glitch/cheat/exploit.   If you don't know what a golden key is, it basically allows you to open up a chest in Sanctuary which will give you some nice loot, usually a few purples that are of your current level.  All it takes is a simple edit in a .ini file.

So you go into your steam directory folder:
example - steam/steamapps/common/borderlands 2/DLC/popremierclub/lic/
and open the WillowDLC.ini file with notepad and you'll be looking for the Numkeys.  Enter the amount of keys you want and next time you boot up Borderlands 2 it should add those keys to your account.

This will probably get patched soon so take advantage while you can.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dragon Age 3 Inquisition, Story Implications and Predictions

With Dragon Age 3 officially announced today it's fun to speculate on the direction the Dragon Age team will take us on this new entry into the series.  I'll be honest and say I'm not an expert on the lore of the Dragon Age universe but I like to think I know enough to grasp what is going on in this universe.  Dragon Age Origins is one of my top 5 favorite games from the last five years and while I liked Dragon Age 2 I could agree with a majority of folks who felt let down by it.  But honestly I'm really excited for Dragon Age 3 and I want to continue seeing the story unfold before my eyes as I'm still heavily invested in this universe.  So I'll let my thoughts and opinions trickle out from here on.


So what is the Inquisition in the Dragon Age universe?  Basically during the first blight they were a group of people who fought against evil magics, heretics and cultists.  Their goals aligned with the Chantry and they eventually merged when Nevarran Accord was signed and established the Circle of Magi.  When this happened they splintered into two different orders; the Templars and the Seekers of Truth.

Dragon Age 3

So what does Inquisition mean for Dragon Age 3?  We can only assume the timeline occurs after the events of Dragon Age 2 where Templars and Mages are in a full scale conflict with each other after the rebellion of Kirkwall mages and thus started a chain reaction where the other circles were broken.  So in the novel Dragon Age: Asunder, Lord Seeker Lambert van Reeves(leader of the Seekers of Truth) declares the Nevarran Accord null breaking the Templars and the Seekers of Truth away from the Chantry so they can act on their own accord.  So it really does sound like the Inquisition will walk the land again as it's own organization once again.

The Role Of The Protagonist

So it will be interesting where Bioware will place the player in this setting without severely restricting the player's choice of class as the two extremes would be Templars and Mages who are in conflict at the moment.  It is quite possible that the player may be put in the role of a Seeker, trying to assemble a squad of people to find the Warden and Hawke, protagonists of the previous games. Find allies and try to fix the world literally. Lord Seeker Lambert seems inherently like a jerk and probably the main antagonist so it's quite possible there is internal conflict inside the order and thus have splintered into two different Seeker factions ones that are still loyal to the Divine (leader of the Chantry) and those who are extremists who align with Lambert.  This is purely speculative and hopefully the Dragon Age team has something utterly more complex and interesting than what I could come up with.

Also if this leaked quote of a survey is to be believed.

From the ashes of that explosion, something new rises: The Inquisition. As the Inquisitor, it falls to you to build up your power and martial your forces, uncover secrets and build connections across the world. You must explore forgotten spaces, uncover ancient mysteries and uproot those who would destroy the fabric of the world.

It's possible the splintered seeker group will be the new Inquisition

Which Characters Will Return? Possible Companions?

Cassandra Pentaghast
Cassandra Pentaghast is probably most known as the lady interrogating Varric as she was looking for answers to the whereabouts of the Hawke the champion of Kirkwall in Dragon Age 2 and she is also the main protagonist of the animated film Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker.  It seems only natural that she would play a major role in Dragon Age 3 as her goals seem to want to quell the conflict between Mages and Templars and she is also considered the right hand of the Divine due to her actions in the animated film.  I could easily see her as being a companion to the main protagonist of Dragon Age 3.

Fan favorite from the first game, it is well known Leliana is an agent of the Divine and at the end of Dragon Age 2 you could see her wearing armor with the Seeker emblem on it and working with Cassandra Pentaghast.  It would be great to catch up on what she has been doing and have her at your side again.

I put Varric here mostly because he's a personal favorite of mine and he brings much needed personality and comic relief in what probably will be a very serious in tone RPG.  Although he probably doesn't take any personal interest in the whole Templar / Mage conflict.  It's possible he needs more adventure in his life and wants another story he can tell the next time he visits a tavern.

Flemeth and Morrigan
While I don't see Flemeth or Morrigan coming back in a companion type of role It would be interesting to see how plot lines between mother and daughter play out.  Flemeth is still this mysterious powerful being that needs more exposition on her origin and Morrigan left us wondering what she was preparing for in the Eluvian mirror.  Perhaps we'll see her emerge in Dragon Age 3 and more details of what happened to her, the warden, the child will be shown.

There are lots of characters I would definitely like to see return but there always has to be room for new characters and new plotlines.  Hawke and the Warden are also some very important people that should have some importance in the story, although I can see the complications of trying to introduce them back into a new game as they can be variably different characters in terms of personality due to different people's play styles.

There are quite a few locations in Thedas that can be used for the setting.  Though I would only single out a few which could be explored in the next installment of the series.
Orlais is an easy choice to make in my opinion.  The most powerful nation in Thedas and home to the Chantry and Divine.  We heard alot about it through stories Leliana has told us during some conversations in the first game and of past conflict and tension mentioned between Ferelden and Orlais.  Val Royeaux the capital city of Orlais seems like it would great place to have a base of operations for the main character and his companions.  Though one concern might be that everyone you talk to might have a french accent and that might feel awkward after awhile.
Tevinter Imperium
It would be great to see some areas of the Tevinter Imperium and how their society works as they are mainly known for being ruled by mages, and their reaction to the Templar / Mage conflict might play a significant role into the story of Dragon Age 3. 

These were just a few of my own thoughts about what I think might happen in Dragon Age 3 and what kind of story specifics I can speculate about the next game.  Obviously I can't comment on any gameplay specifics as they haven't really showed anything yet and how multiplayer will affect the game in general.  So hopefully this was somewhat informative and maybe you agree or disagree with what is said here.  Here's hoping Bioware delivers us a great RPG that we can remember.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Best Level 80 Gold Farming Spot in Guild Wars 2

Everyone wants to find the golden ticket when they get to level 80 whether it's by crafting, gathering, farming monsters, or pvping.  I've tried various ways to make income at level 80 and while i don't think it's the most lucrative way to make gold in Guild Wars 2, it's probably the most easy and efficient way to farm raw materials from salvage and also get a ton of blue, green, yellow(rare) items from killing monsters.

Now the spot you are looking for is in Cursed Shore in the Ruins of Orr.  There are two event spots at Penitent's Waypoint and Shelter's Gate waypoint.  They are about 5 minute events that occur very frequently and you can basically travel from each event through a safe tunnel. Each event is basically a wave based survival encounter and all you need is a decent AoE spell or ability to tag monsters as they spawn.  The picture below is basically where you will find this farming spot, each circled area is where the event will occur and the line simply marks the tunnel you can travel from each spot.

Spot in Cursed Shore to look for.

I recommend eating some magic find food and having ample bag space as it will get filled before you notice it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dark Souls PC Internal Resolution Fix

Apparently a guy named Durante on Neogaf was able to implement a resolution fix for Dark Souls.  This is fantastic news as being locked down to a 1024x720 resolution was one of the main reasons why PC gamers were so angry about such a low quality port (locked framerate at 30 and GFWL were other reasons).

You can find that fix at this Neogaf thread below.

Here are a few screenshots from the discussion thread.

Updated with a video that I recorded below.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Possible Team Fortress 2 Black Screen on Startup Fix

So maybe about a week I was frustrated with Team Fortress 2 as it crashed every time I started the game.  I only wanted to play the Man Vs Machine mode which was introduced a few days ago.  So I did what most people on the forums would tell you to do and re-install the game or verify your cache files.  But those weren't working.   People also suggested to re-install graphics drivers but that also worked to no avail.   The solution to my problem was so weird that i didn't even think of it as a possible solution.   So what worked?

Turn off Fraps.

I thought it was weird too that TF2 would react harshly with Fraps running but this was the fix, that let me play the game for the first time in a long time.  So if you are having problems getting TF2 to run than maybe this is what is happening to you as well.   Version 3.5.6 was the version of Fraps I was running when i encountered this problem.

Monday, August 13, 2012

DARKSIDERS Ending (Enhanced)

So I wanted to work on some more video editing techniques and with Darksiders 2 on the horizon I figured I would use the first Darksiders ending as a testbed.  Usually I work on most effects within After Effects but this time I started to mess around with Photoshop's video editing to use some of the plugin/fliters available there.   So within photoshop I used a few smoothing filters and the initial render wasn't terrible but I decided to run that render within After Effects and work with a toon filter to improve the shadowing and add a drawn look to the video which came out pretty well and you can see the results below.  Still a few things I would like to improve upon but I'll save it for the next project.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings Enhanced Edition (Xbox 360) Review

It's almost been a year since The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings made it's way onto people's home PCs and were pleasantly surprised to find one of the best role playing games of the year(you can read my original The Witcher 2 review here).  At the same time it was a very resource heavy game and a large number of people who were interested probably didn't have a gaming PC capable of running the game or were a console player wondering why this game is so highly praised.  So earlier this month CD Projekt Red have released an Xbox 360 version of the game that is faithful to the original while also bringing in a lot of extra content in an Enhanced Edition of the game.

Geralt of Rivia

So if you are new to the series of The Witcher the story follows the adventures of Geralt of Rivia who is somewhat of a monster hunter by trade and has supernatural powers due to being a mutant.  He also has amnesia and becomes aware of who or what he is and was on his journey as memories trickle in slowly.  So one of the concerns of someone who is coming in fresh is that they probably don't know what happened in the first game as there was never a console port for 360 owners.  So the Enhanced Edition alleviates this problem a little bit with a few added cut-scenes and even a short video explaining what Witchers are.  The Witcher universe is definitely rich with lore so it may be daunting and confusing at times as there are names of people and places referenced in a few parts of the game that are very irrelevant to what your current mission in the game is.  It's not essential to play the first game or read the books from which the games were derived from but it will take awhile for you to settle down and get comfortable.  Unlike most stereotypical fantasy the Witcher universe feels very parallel to our real world in spots as politics, racism, sexism and terrorism are major themes that this game touches upon that we can relate to.

Geralt and King Foltest

The basic gist of the story is that Geralt is on a quest to clear his name as the monarch he was protecting gets assassinated and thus Geralt becomes the fall guy.  While his mission seems straightforward, on the way to fulfilling his objective of finding the real assassin he will get involved indirectly with conflicts that are occurring during his journey in the quest hubs of the game which are usually small towns and camps. You will meet your fair share of dwarves, elves, prostitutes, shady town folk, soldiers, freedom fighters, sorceresses, nobles and monarchs whose interests may or may not align with yours thus it's in your power to decide whether to help them with their situations or not. The plot is morally grey as there is no real good or evil characters in the game. Everyone has their own agenda and the choices you make as Geralt will shape the game's story as you progress further in.  It's up to you to choose what you feel is right and on an initial playthrough you may not know how the plot would deviate if you chose something differently but then it utterly seems brilliant at how this game keeps track of your choices in subsequent playthroughs as events in the story can change drastically in the later chapters of the game just by choosing to do something else.

Flotsam's Forest

Visually the game doesn't look as good as the PC version but it's definitely still a looker for an Xbox 360 game and I would even go as far as to say it's one of the best looking games on the platform.  The frame rate also holds up very well throughout the entirety of the game which is surprising as this was a very taxing game on the PC.  I would highly recommend you install the game on the hard drive as there is noticeable texture pop-in when the game is reading off the disc but other than that it's a feast for the eyes.  The interface menu for the inventory and quest journal in the game can be a hassle to get around as you have to use the left and right bumpers to navigate to specific categories and triggers to switch between inventory, quest journal, map and skill trees.  It's not a very elegant system but is serviceable enough to get by.  The map is not very good although it is a nicely drawn map, the information it gives you is very minimal and there are places and quest areas that aren't quite easily found because you can't quite find the small hidden path that leads to the area you need to go to on the map.

Geralt poking people with his sword.

Combat is an acquired taste, it starts out difficult but becomes easier as you gain skill points every time you level up.  Although the combat is very action oriented, early on you have to be patient or get overwhelmed by multiple enemies.  It's not a button-mashing game and thus requires the player to use a bit of restraint and use everything in your arsenal.  That includes bombs, traps, spells, dodging, blocking and parrying.  The game does come with a tutorial which teaches you some of the basics of combat and how to craft some essential items like potions.  The tutorial itself is a huge leap in convenience over the original release as not a lot of the game's systems were explained in detail but a beginner should be able to understand the basics of the interface and combat after they finish the tutorial level.  I wouldn't say the game is difficult but there is a learning hurdle that everyone must get acquainted with but there's enough depth and skills to build a character tailored to your fighting style.  You can be magic, swordsmanship, or alchemy focused with each tree improving upon specific abilities and items.  For example the alchemy tree would improve traps, bombs and sword oils, while putting points in the swordsmanship tree would improve upon melee abilities.  Geralt is equipped with two weapons at a time, one general weapon slot usually slotted with a steel sword but you can also equip knives, shovels, brooms, spoons if you so desire and then you have another slot for your witcher silver sword.   General rule of thumb is to use regular weapons on humanoids and your silver sword for monsters.

There are boss fights in the game and while they are not very complex or difficult, they can be downright cheap at times.  It's quite possible that a boss will put you in a knock back combo where you can't do anything but watch because you are stuck in a knock back animation while the boss keeps hitting you which is especially true for the Draug fight.  The checkpoint system could have been better during some portions of the game because a death could eat away half an hour of your life if you didn't quite prepare for combat with potions.  It left me yearning for a quick-save button but manually saving becomes your best friend even though it's less convenient than a quick-save option.

The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is a fantastic role playing game, the Xbox 360 version of the game is of excellent quality without too many issues and very comparable to the PC version of the game.  If you want to explore a mature and dark fantasy universe with a cast of memorable characters and experience the drama and tactical maneuvering between the major factions of power then I highly recommend playing this game regardless of platform.