Now that we’re out of Daylight Savings, the days have become way too short. I only have about an hour of sunlight available when I come home from work, and the darkness and the chilling weather have sapped my desire to go out. The plus side is that I find myself having a lot more time for gaming! And that’s way better than basking in sunlight and physical activity, right?? Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to lately……
I’ve been playing Fallout 4! But chances are if you’re reading a gaming blog, you have been too, judging by the rest of the attention I’ve seen this game get on WordPress. I just started it last Saturday morning on PC. I’ve been playing for ~15 hours, but I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface.
So far, I’ve only had one serious bug to contend with, but I was able to fix that pretty easily after some snooping on the Steam forums. When I started the game, I experienced some pretty severe stuttering whenever I moved the camera. It actually started to make me motion sick, which never happens to me in games. I found out that if I ran the game in windowed mode as opposed to fullscreen, the issue went away completely. I now run the game in a *borderless window* that takes up the full resolution of my monitor…..i.e. exactly the same thing as full screen…. and it is a silky smooth experience for me. What an absurd fix to an absurd problem.
Otherwise, I haven’t encountered any serious bugs. I’ve clipped through a door into an area that I don’t think I was meant to go into, and I’ve seen things like a radscorpion freeze mid-animation when popping up out of the ground. All these bugs are just the goofy kind. I fortunately haven’t encountered anything game breaking, yet.
I’ve heard some people say this game looks just like Fallout 3 on a technical level, which I find utterly absurd. I think we’ve reached a point where many people are forgetting what 360/PS3 games actually looked like. But I will say, it’s not the most visually impressive game of the last year or so, but it’s nowhere near Fallout 3-level visuals.
Tri Force Heroes
A lot of people were very down on this game when it launched, but since this hasn’t been a particularly good year for 3DS releases, I decided to pick it up so I would have something to play on the handheld. I was actually quite surprised. With all the negativity surrounding the game, I was impressed that I took to the game as quickly as I did.
For those that don’t know, Tri Force Heroes is a 3-player co-op top-down Zelda game. And by 3-player co-op, I mean 3 player co-op. Notice the game is called Tri Force with a space. It’s not possible to play with only two players. If a member of your trio drops out mid-game, then both of the remaining players are kicked back to the game’s matchmaking lobby. It’s possible to play it single-player, but in this mode the player has to swap control between the 3 characters. The ones the player isn’t in control of have no AI whatsoever and just stand in place. I only messed around a little bit with the single player mode and felt that it was rather tedious, so I stuck with online co-op.
This strict 3 player requirement makes sense in light of the game’s heavy puzzle emphasis. The game is divided into 8 worlds (of course) and each world is divided into 4 levels. At the start of a level, the players must each pick up one of the three items (i.e., boomerang, grappling hook, etc.) that are needed to complete the level. Each player can only carry one item, and teamwork is required to solve the many puzzles that fill each level. If there were only 2 players giving it a go, then the most of the puzzles would be unsolvable. I was actually a bit surprised that they went for such a heavy emphasis on puzzles, when they could have went the easy route and made it a combat-focused game that wouldn’t have required as much teamwork.
This is where I thought the magic of the game really shined through. Right off the bat, I was having a great time figuring out how to work with my team to use our items to progress. I got a really glowing feeling each time everything finally clicked between us, and we worked out how each of our items figured into the obstacle at hand.. I’m surprised so many other people whose thoughts I’ve read on the game didn’t feel the same way.
Also, I fortunately didn’t encounter as many troll players as I feared. I encountered one player who immediately began picking me and the other player up and would throw us off cliffs. I disconnected from that quickly. Fortunately, he started trolling us right away at the beginning of the level. If he had waited until we were deeper into the level to show his true colors, he would have wasted a lot more of my time, because when you disconnect from a game, you have to start the whole level over again (and these levels can take ~30 minutes to beat sometimes). There was one other player who I think might have been a troll, but I couldn’t say for certain. If he was, he was impressively subtle. He kept walking off ledges into pits, which is a problem since all players share the same life bar. But he would only walk into a pit when he had “plausible deniability”. He wouldn’t just walk off at random times. For instance, when a moving platform was coming, he would *always* walk off the ledge toward it just a moment too early or too late. And he did this *a lot*. I eventually decided that no one could be this bad at the game and disconnected since the team was down to one heart and on our last life anyway.
Regrettably, the magic of the game didn’t last. I was really enjoying Tri Force Heroes for the first five worlds, but the final three are really hard. At a certain point, it became more tedious than joyful. The levels are fairly time consuming, and if your team loses all four lives they’ve been granted, then the entire level must be redone from square one. Considering the difficulty of the final stretch of the game, it ended up becoming a very repetitive affair for me, as I had to give several levels multiple attempts. I honestly don’t think such repetition suits the game considering it causes the player to have to grind on the same puzzles they’ve already solved in previous attempts.
I don’t think I’ll ever really beat Tri Force Heroes, unfortunately. After several attempts with multiple teams, I only managed to reach the final boss once in the final level. And I didn’t even get to fight the boss because a connection error popped up almost as soon as the fight started. As you can imagine, I was quite frustrated. I soldiered on afterwards, but none of my subsequent teams even got close to the boss. Eventually, I relented to my annoyance with the whole thing, and I’ve put the game away. It’s been quite a disappointment in light of the blast I was having during the first half of the game.
Some of you who read my blog regularly may remember that I bought a Dreamcast over the summer. For my run of horror games that I played over October, I wanted to include a Dreamcast title and decided on playing a somewhat obscure game called Blue Stinger. Actually, I had wanted to play Ill Bleed, but that game was way too expensive on ebay. I decided on Blue Stinger instead, as it’s by the same producer and I vaguely recall reading about it around the the time of the Dreamcast’s launch.
Long story short, I didn’t make a post about Blue Stinger since I found that it wasn’t much of a horror game. I’ve found out that some people categorize it as such, but others don’t, and I find myself agreeing more with the latter group. The enemies certainly look like something out of a survival horror title, but that’s as far as it goes. There is no real atmosphere to this game, as I’m not sure if it’s even supposed to be a scary. The game’s environments are rather brightly colored and punctuated by this very jaunty and orchestral background music.
Anyway, I only bring this up on the off-chance someone who reads this may have played the game. I’m not sure if I’m going to play much further than I have already (about an hour in), and I wanted to know if the game is worth completing.
Every now and then, about once a year or so, a little monkey jumps on my back and compels me to splurge a little bit on retro gaming stuff. This year it happened that I finally bought a Dreamcast after having wanted one since the glorious date of 9/9/99. I don’t really know what finally made me decide to go in on one. Part of it was the excitement everyone seems to have over Shenmue 3. Part of it was also that I was perusing Gamestop’s new “vintage” gaming selection out of curiosity, and I came to the realization that secondhand Dreamcast stuff wasn’t that expensive. Oddly enough, I’m not getting into Shenmue yet (it’s too expensive right now), and I didn’t buy from Gamestop (I used ebay).
Sega was always gaming’s greatest underdog, always defiantly standing against titans like Nintendo and Playstation. It’s amazing that they stayed in the hardware business for as long as they did. Their machines were never able to achieve the worldwide mindshare that their competitors had. Genesis was probably the most successful thing they ever had, managing to run neck-and-neck with the Super Nintendo outside of Japan. It’s impressive to me that they were able to stay in hardware for as long as they did. Sega was known for its bold but spuriously logical business decisions that usually turned into embarrassing failures (32x, Saturn launch, etc.). I suspect that their long stubbornness to go third party was actually just another decision born out of bad business acumen, but one that actually ended up being great for gamers.
Dreamcast always strikes me as a deeply beloved machine. Dreamcast was the Sega underdog’s swan song, and I think that’s what contributes to its mystique. I find that even those who are consummate Playstation or Nintendo fans often express a fairly high respect for the platform, something they don’t show for the Genesis, Saturn, or Game Gear (and certainly not Master System). Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it was just a way more competently managed product than Saturn.
In North America, it graced us for little over a year before discontinuation. But that was surprisingly enough time to amass a fairly respectable library, both in quantity and quality. That can partly be thanked to being out a year earlier in Japan, but it still amuses me to compare it to modern consoles which were relatively light on releases in their launch year. Getting a game out the door and onto shelves was very different back then, I suppose. It does mean, though, that despite its short lifespan, it’s worthwhile to go back to for retro-game fans.
And now, here is my shame: until this recent purchase, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Dreamcast in person, much less played one. I really wanted to get into Dreamcast at its launch, but I was just shy of the age where I could start earning income for myself. And with the PSX library still being so hot, I didn’t even bother trying to justify such a purchase to my parents. Nonetheless, I hung onto every bit of preview and review coverage I could find online for the Dreamcast and am left with this weird vicarious nostalgia for the system. The Dreamcast and its games just struck me as intensely cool in a way that Playstation wasn’t, even though I loved the PSX and its amazing library to death.
So fast forward nearly 16 years later, I now have a taste of that for which I so long pined. The system itself is relatively simple. The front-end user interface for managing save files, settings, and audio CDs is very sleek and functional with its simple sky blue background. To be honest, I never liked the PS2’s front end with the dark, abstract environments that it used as a background decoration. It just seemed depressing and desolate to me. The springy Dreamcast logo is way better than the weird cubes jutting up from beneath the dark blue cloud that the PS2 greeted gamers with. But this is all merely cosmetic, and unlike modern gaming machines, no one’s really going to spend a lot of time using the front-end.
The controller is another thing. I don’t really feel strong emotions for it one way or the other. I find it interesting that it has fewer buttons than either the PSX or N64 pads. Fewer buttons means its more difficult to pull off complex game systems, but, so far, I haven’t run into any games where I feel that more buttons would help. Honestly, (console) game design at the time probably didn’t favor overly-complex control schemes. Meanwhile, most modern games seem to map an action to every button on the controller and map further actions beyond that to specific button combinations.
Honestly, its difficult to analyze the controller, because I feel that I’m spoiled by modern gamepads which have become highly evolved. I’m quite fond of the Dual Shock 4 for its ergonomics and the tactility and precision of its buttons/sticks. I use it not just for PS4, but also extensively on the PC. The Dreamcast controller feels like a cheap third-party controller, in contrast. Of course to be fair, I should be comparing it to its contemporaries, but it’s been so long since I’ve used the PSX controller that I don’t remember it that well. And I wasn’t really an N64 gamer. The analog stick feels okay to me, tight enough for the games that were coming out at the time, but it probably would be terrible for modern games where more precision is needed. Also, there’s only one stick! The PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube all had 2, and 2 is really necessary for advanced 3D gaming (one to control movement, one to control camera). Assuming it didn’t die so early, I’ve always wondered how Dreamcast would have stacked up against the competition in terms of multiplatform releases for the rest of the generation. I can’t imagine it would have ever been the preferred machine for multiplatform games.
The VMU is a neat addition, but I find that it’s used by hardly anything. It’s been great for Code Veronica, though, where it displays your health without the need to go into the menu. As far as I can tell, the battery is dead in mine, so I haven’t been able to try it out as a portable game machine yet.
The d-pad is a bit of a point of contention for me. It’s an okay d-pad, I guess. Not as abysmal as the 360 pad. Again, it’s been so long since I’ve played on an original PSX pad, so I’m not sure how it compares, but the DC pad has the problem that a lot of lower quality d-pads have where it registers diagonals way too easily. You can have your thumb touching only the up-direction, but if you’re pressing it off center, then it will register a diagonal. I think it’s given me an appreciation of why people hate tank controls in old survival horror games. I played RE1-3 on PSP and never had trouble with these controls. But the PSP has an excellent d-pad. In Code Veronica, on the other hand, I’ve often had the problem of veering off-course (usually straight into a zombie’s face) when I’m trying to run in a straight line.
Here are the games I’ve gotten so far on Dreamcast:
Code Veronica: I’ve given all the mainline Resident Evil games a go except for Code Veronica and Zero, so this is a big hole in my gaming experience. At first I thought it was going for something a little different than the standard Resident Evil formula, but it’s really the same formula just expanded over what feels like a much larger area than the mansion or the police station. In some ways it’s a better sequel to 1 and 2 than 3 is, but I don’t think it does anything as innovative as what 3 did with Nemesis. I’ll maybe write more on this game after I’ve beaten it.
Time Stalkers: This is a cool dungeon crawler that caught my eye while browsing ebay. Doesn’t seem like it’s one of those games that a lot of people talk about while remembering the Dreamcast, for whatever reason.
Hydro Thunder: I am a glutton for arcade racers and a huge fan of Hydro Thunder Hurricane on XBLA. Honestly, I didn’t realize that Hurricane hewed so close to being a more advanced remake of this game than a sequel. It’s kind of hard to play, consequently, as Hurricane just does what this game is doing so much better. All it does is make me want to break out the 360 to play Hurricane again.
Vigilante 8: Second Offense: I’m a huge fan of Twisted Metal, but I’ve never really tried the Vigilante 8 series. I thought this would be a good opportunity to do that.
Zombie Revenge: As I mentioned, for someone with no Dreamcast experience, I’m oddly aware of most of its library due to the preview coverage I read at the time. But I don’t remember Zombie Revenge at all, and only heard about it after recently listening to the Dreamcast episode of Retronauts. I was looking at House of the Dead 2 originally, but realized the light gun wouldn’t work on my HDTV, so I went with this spin-off instead.
Blue Stinger: This is a very unusual survival horror game that was recommended by one of my favorite YouTubers, Derek Alexander. Seems like a bit of an odd game, from the same team that made the infamous IllBleed. Looking forward to playing it.
Noticeably, there’s no Sonic Adventure on this list. I’ve played the Steam version of SA a bit and realize that, while it was amazing at the time, it’s aged incredibly poorly. SA 1 and 2 still seem like quintessential Dreamcast games though, so I may give them a go sometime later. I hope to write a few more posts about the above games as soon as I’ve played through them.