Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A 6 Hours Into It Review of Mass Effect 2 [Video Games]

Going to let me nerd out even more than I did on the OMG The Walking Dead on TV?! post.

I've had an XBox 360 for a bit over 3 years now, and one of my favorite (if not THE favorite) games I've played on it was Mass Effect by Bioware. An incredibly rich story, it expertly blended RPG and action elements with a fantastic story and branching structure. Of course there were issues. Some side missions got pretty repetitive, what with the whole "Land on planet, drive around, kill a few things, take off again" structure. The inventory management system was one of the worst I've seen in a game. But those weren't problems that kept it from being one of my favorite games of all time.

Now the second chapter of the planned trilogy is out, and wow... Bioware has some stones. Apparently you can finish the second game in a trilogy with your main character DEAD. You'd have to play ME3 with a newly created character.

But the big things that stick out as ballsy changes are some of the changes that Bioware made to the gameplay mechanics. Risky, for a game that did so well in its first iteration. I'm going to use Paul Lukas of UniWatch's system for sports uniform change criticism of "Is it good, bad or stupid?"

Caveat: I'm only about 6 or 7 hours into the game, which will probably stretch 50, 60 or more hours. These are all first impressions.

Gone is the terrible inventory system. In fact, gone is the inventory at all. It's a good thing and a bad thing. No more giant inventory, juggling weapons, endless time figuring out what to sell and what to keep. Now, you just have the weapons you are equipped with. You can choose your weapon loadout at the beginning of a mission and you go. But gone with the inventory are the items you can add to a weapon, swap to different weapons, etc to enhance them.

Verdict: Good. That inventory system was terrible. But it allowed me to make ALOT of money for my character*. This is simpler and better.

*I'm lucky I imported a character from ME1 that was deemed 'rich', as it gave me a $100,000 start on cash.

The upgrade system. This is interesting. You have a scientist on your ship that can research upgrades, or you can purchase upgrades. These get applied to most of your weapons and armor (I think, I'm still pretty early in the game) of a given class. I have seen at least one upgrade that just effects Shepherd's [your character] health. So there's probably other upgrades that are more specific. But they're very general and not swappable among weapons and armor.

Unfortunately, you need resources to research and build your upgrades. And resources are a pain in the ass to find [more on that later]. The upgrades look great, and could have some neat effects but it looks like you're going to have to be much more careful and think about what you want and the team members you use most before you research/buy an upgrade.

Upgrade system verdict: Good, so far but the potential to become bad because of resources.

More on resources. Getting resources happens in one of two ways. You can find them while going through your missions [easy] and you can scan unexplored planets to get them [tedious, lame]. Scanning a system basically entails going into orbit around a planet marked 'Unexplored' and running a circular cursor over the planet while pressing your RT trigger and watching for signs of a resource you want. This is a slow and tedious process. Then, once you find it you have to launch a probe to mine the resource.

Problem is, probes cost money. And flying to planets within a system costs fuel (which costs money).

Verdict: Upgrades are going to be very important in this game to make your characters more effective against escalating difficulties of enemies. Forcing the player to go through the tedious process of scanning planets for resources that is just plain boring. But at leas you don't have to drive around annoying landscapes in that stupid truck from ME1 anymore? Stupid.

I'm lucky my imported character from ME1 was a top level guy that gave me a decent amount of resources to start with* (10k each), although I'm already finding upgrades I can't even begin to afford yet.

*See a pattern here? I sorta feel sorry for ME2 players that don't have a strong and complete ME1 player to import.

Fuel and probes are both essential to exploring uncharted planets and finding your resources. They cost money. Fuel is also needed to fly between planets within a system and fly between systems within an area. There goes being able to freely explore the rich universe ME1 and ME 2 have built. I'm playing this game to have fun, not to replicate stopping at the gas station before my commute to work.

Verdict: Bad. Also stupid.

Travelling between planets and systems has also obviously changed a bit, given the addition of fuel. No longer do you go to your map and say "I want to go here now." Now you have to 'fly' there, using fuel. If you want to move out of an area containing multiple systems to another, you have to fly (using fuel) to the local system that has the Mass Effect Relay, then fly to it, then use it to travel between systems. Why? What does this add to the game? Nothing. What does it take away? The freedom to travel easily and explore without worrying about your gas tank.

Verdict: Bad. Also stupid.

Weapon 'powers' are a pretty neat feature. At least for my character class, you can specialize in powers for your weapons themselves, so you can make your bullets cryo or fire bullets on the fly (and I'm sure others as I go one). I love this. Ont he fly you can hit enemies with different sorts of attacks from one gun. The only problem with this is for bigger enemies you have to switch multiple times in one fight to get through their layers of defenses. It gets a bit annoying since it takes time to switch powers. But overall, I like it.

Verdict: Good.

Terminal hacking and overrides have also changed. Gone are the button mashing 'minigame' that also depending on the skills of someone in your party. Enter are two different minigames for hacking and overriding that aren't dependent on any skills. The hacking minigame basically makes you match little colored bits that look like text to other ones that look the same in a scrolling interface with a timer. Hard to describe. It's pretty easy, but a little tedious. Overrides are done by matching 'circuits' on a circuit board, again timed. They are both relatively easy, but not any less tedious than the simple button mashing minigame.

Verdict: Stupid, but no harm done.

Your actions in the game also act more like streamlined missions than freeform exploration. Maybe BioWare doesn't WANT players to just explore and take it easy. Maybe they are trying to force players into a feeling that they need to get moving. That shit is going down and there's no time to waste. When you complete a mission, you get a mission report and then you are back on your ship. I kind of like it. One problem though - when you have multiple missions on a plaet/station, and you finish one it's stupid to have to re-dock/land just to do another mission. It should be smarter and just leave you there if you have more to do.

Verdict: Good. But if they really wanted to get the player to feel the urgency of the story, you shouldn't have to slowly scan planets for resources.

Of course, what made the original Mass Effect so good was the story. So far, it's amazingly good. The import of your ME1 character is seamless [although one friend of mien did have some trouble with it, not sure what] and you are instantly dumped into the action. I cant' say much more about the story because I don't want to give away any spoilers, but the part where you meet[character from ME1 name redacted] is really cool and for people who used [him/her] alot in ME1 it feels like you've met up with an old friend right when you need [him/her] the most. I look forward to more moments like that.

Reading the above, it sounds like I've got lots of bad things to say about it. Mostly, I think it's just nitpicking a game that I love. ME1 blew my mind. I hold any sequel to a high standard. There are some elements that seem pointless or against the feel of the game they tried to make. But it's still Mass Effect, with great voice acting, plot, character development and everything.

And I know it's a good game when I sorta wish I could just go home early from work and play more.

For a MUCH better review than this schmuck can do, see Ars Technica's Opposable Thumbs review.

Update after playing for another 4 hours
  • Resources: If you play ME2, safe up all the iridium you can for the ship upgrade to your scanner. It makes scanning go a little quicker. Also, focus just on planets that are deemed 'Rich'. It's still stupid that I have to spend so much time just manually scanning an entire planet's surface, but those two things have really increased the amount of resources I was able to get. My verdict is still Stupid though, because it really slows down a game that I think they tried to make more tense and fast paced.

  • Upgrades: By increasing the the speed (even if just by a bit) resources I took in, I was able to afford alot more upgrades. Still Good. I think. For now.

  • A specific mission complaint: there's a mission I got pretty early to recover some supplies form a planet. I land, and apparently have to fight off three heavy mechs before they destroy 20 crates. I can't remember the name of the mission but it's a side 'N7' mission. Don't even try it until you've leveled up your squad quite a bit and can take out all their shields quickly. It's a BEAST. No way should a mission that difficult come so early.

  • Needing to gas up your ship for traveling between systems is still monumentally Stupid.

Friday, January 22, 2010

An Open Letter To Andre Carson

After thinking about it for a few days, I recently sent this to Indiana's 7th District House Representative, Andre Carson:

I'm writing to you regarding recent news reports that progressive legislators in the House are considering not supporting the Senate Health Care Reform Bill (HCR). As a constituent who voted for you in 2008, I would urge you not to make this mistake.

Yes, the Senate HCR bill is greatly flawed. Yes, it doesn't go nearly far enough in fixing the disaster that is the US health care system. Yes, the reason why we are faced with the current dilemma is the fault of the Senate, not the House. But it is only the House that can save us. It is only the House that can see to it that the last several months were not wasted. It is only the House that can pass a bill, that while flawed, will still materially improve the lives of millions of Americans.

I find myself thinking of another flawed bill, a bill that at the time was rightly criticized for not going far enough. I'm thinking of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. And I'm thinking of how Lyndon Johnson argued that passing the 1957 CRA would break down the wall that had held civil rights legislation back for decades. Johnson said that passing the 1957 CRA would open the door for better legislation later. Johnson was of course proven right.

I urge you and your fellow House progressives to follow Johnson's example and not turn away from this chance to make history.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Walking Dead to be on TV? Awesome

First saw this retweeted from Robert Kirkman himself:
Variety is reporting AMC has ordered the pilot episode of THE WALKING DEAD... and they're right. Exciting times.
And now io9 has a post on it as well.

Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption has been given the go-ahead from AMC to adapt the astounding zombie comicThe Walking Dead for television. Time to get excited, and prepare your anti-zombie shelter.

The Walking Dead is based on the comic series written by Robert Kirkman. It was previously announced thatAMC was in talks to bring the undead back to life. It's now being reported in the trades that AMC has stopped talking, and is ready to bring Darabont's pilot adaptation to undead life. Plus he's going to sign on to direct.

So not only is a cable network doing it (so it can weather lower ratings better than on a broadcast network as well as be as bloody and gritty as it needs to be), but they are getting the director behind The Shawshank Redemption to adapt and direct? Wow.

Here's hoping it's even half as good as the graphic novels. A series is the perfect format for this story, much better than trying to cram it into a movie. Guess I need to pick up Trade Paperbacks #9 and #10 now.

The Walking Dead on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fiscal Responsibility

Let's say you were shown the following graph:
And that I told you the dollar amount on the left is .. say... average tax rate per person for various countries. On the right the line goes to.. let's call it a "dollars the taxpayer sees back in services". Obviously an upward sloping line would be good, and a downward sloping line would be bad.

Now let's say that the thickness of the line represented the number of government services used by the average taxpayer, so a thick line would be good and a thin line bad. Make sense?

By any estimation, the United States in that graph is horrifyingly inefficient, and conservatives would be SCREAMING that the government needs to be trimmed, that taxes need to be cut and that LIBERALS ARE TO BLAME (of course).

But what would they say if the actual context of that graph was shown?

What the fa-hells? The United States pays 1.65 times more than the next highest country in public + private health care expenditures per capita, but has less than average life expectancy at birth. On top of that, we have very few doctor visits per year.

Wouldn't anyone who truly believes in fiscal responsibility say that our current system is horrifyingly broken, and that we should investigate alternate models that obviously can produce much better results?

What is fiscally responsible about opposing major healthcare reforms*? Beuller? Beuller? Anyone?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Your definition of "Leading Conservatives" is questionable

So reading in Google Reader, I still occasionally get ads sneaking through because Chrome's Adblock extension isn't very robust. Got one today on a political post that had me scratching my head a bit....

Let's take a look at the pictures of "leading conservatives"
  1. John Stossel : Crazy, libertarian, mustachioed
  2. Margaret Thatcher : Crazy, British, deadfrustratingly alive
  3. Sarah Palin : Batshit crazy, can see Russia from her house, brain dead
  4. Ronald Reagan : Senile, dead
If that's "leading conservatives", the complete ineptitude of the Democratic Party at the games of politics doesn't worry me so much.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mayor Ballard looks for a solution to the snow

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard asks the Quizno's Oven if it can melt the snow in Indy for him.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Colts 2010 Playoff Run Propaganda

Back when I used to work on an attempt at a sports blog, I made some anti-Patriots, pro-Colts "propaganda" posters based mostly on WWII propaganda posters. (Someday I'll get those posted on here as well) With the playoffs starting this weekend I figured I'd take a break from all this "neglecting the blog" and do something non political.

Not my strongest work, but I like how I turned Freeney into a drawing of sorts. Based on this poster.
My best work of these two by far, and one of my best ever. Based on this.

I'll try to do some more after the wild card games this weekend, hopefully with an opponent I can get some good mileage out of.

Go Colts!