Sunday, November 25, 2007

Assassin's Creed = meh

So I finished "Jade Raymond's" Assassin's Creed the other day. Let me just say this first, I am so tired of Jade Raymond. Ubisoft has been pushing her on us for the better part of 2 years and we get it. She's a very attractive woman working in games, yet kind of nerdy, and she gets all the fan boys hot. Its hard to hate on Jade, she is an accomplished and a legitimate developer, not some marketing figure head, but what about the 150 other people on the project? Jade Raymond herself did not create Assassin's Creed. There was a huge team that worked on it. Its the same thing with CliffyB (Cliff Blezinsk) and Gears of War. Cliff was the front man and it seemed no one else got any light besides Tim Sweeney because he's the major engineering force behind Unreal Engine 3. I think Bungie does it right spotlighting the studio, and several members from the team. It's Bungie's Halo and not one person. In the end individual game development super stars irk the hell out of me, Cliff irks me more than Jade because he just lives for the limelight, and Gears of War is better than Assassin's Creed.

This leads right into my review. WARNING, this does contain spoilers. Stop reading if you don't want spoilers. So Assassin's Creed is not a bad game, but its not good either. Its just average. Its does a few things exceedingly well, I mean like no one else does it better, but it does so many other things wrong. Here's the break down.

WHAT WENT RIGHT
1. Visuals
Assassin's Creed absolutely nails the visuals. The cities are just amazing and put together with pain staking detail. Climb to one of the high points of the level and you can see everything flawlessly and seamlessly. A great technical feat. Down on the street level, everything is very detailed and gives the feeling that the city you are in is truly alive. Its such an accomplishment to take on a vast city and craft it with such care that the player actually feels they are in ancient Jerusalem and not boxes on a flat plane.

The animations are truly great, as Altair bounds, grips, climbs, and swings are around. His cloak flows around him and truly looks deadly his is movements. The first time you kill someone with the wrist blade, just awesome.

One area that could be improved are the NPCs. They seem kind of stiff and lacking detail, but its minor in the grand scheme of things. For everything else Assassin's Creed nails, the NPCs can afford to be overlooked.

2. The Crowd Simulation
What really makes the cities feel alive are the people that live in it. The city is bustling around with citizens and soldiers alike. Merchants are hawking their goods, fanatics lecturing, and guards patrolling keeping the peace. They react to your actions as well; scattering if a fight breaks out, getting knocked over if you barrel through them, and make note of your odd behavior when scaling building faces.

3. Controls
The controls are a little awkward at first, but simple, yet make you feel like an expert navigating around 12th century cities. You control Altair with the left stick and the camera with the right. Bounding around is as simple as holding RT and A at the same time, and just make sure you're pointing in the right direction. Altair bounds around seamlessly and fluidly and you feel like an acrobatic master.

4. The Story (sort of)
The story doesn't set any gold standard, but it kept me intrigued and motivated me to push through the monotony that set on early in the game. Right off the bat their is a twist, you're actually in the future, having been captured by a shadowy organization. The organization has a machine that can play your ancestors memories. You are an ancestor of the elite assassin Altair, and contain memories with information crucial to the organization that is holding you captive. So you get this nice dual story, one of Altair as he proceeds through his adventures and the other of your imprisonment at this organization. It does get preachy at times, but that can be overlooked.

WHAT WENT WRONG
1. No Depth
This game is the definition of a shallow game. There are 5 gameplay scenarios that take place.
  1. Interrogate
  2. Pick Pocket
  3. Informant
  4. Eavesdrop
  5. Assassinate
There are 3 cities, and each city has 3 people to assassinate. Each target becomes available at different times throughout the game, and can only can be assassinated after gathering intel. You gather intel by doing the first four actions. Interrogate requires you follow someone and beat them for information. Pick pocket has you go pick pocket an NPC's fanny pack and if you fail you just elude the guards and try again. Informant is a little fun as sometimes you're suppose to stealth kill a number of targets in a given time or run around and collect flags in an acrobatic time trial. Eavesdropping is probably the dumbest since you just sit on bench, listen in on a conversation and you're done. These 4 intel gathering techniques are used over and over again and never change. Its sucks.

Also, can't forget the assassination scenario. This usually ends up being a big build up, a big fancy cut scene that just comes down to a monkey shit fight when trying to kill the target. All the big assassination scenarios just always seem to start out with the guards alerted to your presence. Once and only once was I able to stealthily kill my target and it was the very first target of the game. Everyone there after was this huge combat engagement that was just a total pain in the ass.

2. Combat
Combat is cool at first, but then becomes a chore. The counter move is overpowered, pretty much guaranteeing a kill. There is a pretty cool kill shot with the counter move, but it gets old fast. The combat never changes as well. You just enter engagement, run or fight, and that's it. Nothing varies, nothing is different. Its like a bad beat 'em up where you can just abuse one move the entire length of the game.

3. Stealth isn't that important
As an assassin you'd think stealth would be incredibly important. Well its not, unless its a requirement to complete an objective. Each assassination of one of the Templar is just a muddled mess that boils down to whiping out your sword, fighting a dozen of so guards, and then killing your target. I can see not handcuffing the player with stealth only game play, but perhaps providing a reward system that encourages the player to play as an expert stealth assassinate would help. The player could play gun-ho style, but if they chose to play stealthily, they are rewarded.

4. The homeless NPCs
OH MY FUCKING GOD. I hated those NPCs. They were useless, annoying, and just got in my way at the most inconvenient times. The wonder the city begging for money just in like Central Square in Cambridge. The worst are the crazy homeless people that actually push you and knock you into guards at the most inopportune times. It sucks when you're trying to slink away from a kill and one of these people either stop you from escaping successfully and you have to repeat the whole objective. I want to play Assassin's Creed, not Central Square Creed DAMN IT!

And thats it. Assassin's Creed is fantastic visually and pulls off a technical feat with the crowd simulation. Other that than its shallow, easy, and repetitious. The game feels as if it were made as a tech demo, and not a full fledged game. It demos well, but after about 2 hours, probably and hour of actual game play, it just utterly falls apart.

Well the game is selling well, there probably be a sequel, and hopefully they can fix some of the poor and boring game play that plagues the game in its first attempt.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

No Patriots Football today

No New England Patriots football today. A bye week for my favorite NFL team. Still it was a good weekend.

Friday (Nov 9th) was the Rock Band release party. Harmonix, once again, hosted one hell of a release party. It was at the Hard Rock Cafe in Faneuil Hall. Demos of Rock Band were going on in one room, a full bar in another, and in a third room local bands made up of Harmonix folks were playing all night. I am so happy and proud for Harmonix. They are on the cusp of delivering their third killer product in 3 years (last 2 years were Guitar Hero I/II), and Rock Band is poised to their best yet. With BioShock from 2K Boston (Irrational) and Rock Band from Harmonix this year, I think the Boston games industry is about to turn a major corner. We are getting more and more respect, and no longer will Boston area developers get the "they make games in Boston?" Hopefully the talent will grow here and we can rival the West Coast in game development poweress.

Other than that, not much else going on. Call of Duty 4 shipped last Tuesday (Nov 6th) and has completely lived up to the hype. I was part of the multiplayer beta, and even now I still enjoy the multiplayer with its MMORPG-esque leveling mechanics. Its addictive as hell. The campaign was short (5 hours for me), but it was so well done, screamed high production from wire to wire. However, I think its time Infinity Ward implemented a cover-system like R6: Vegas and Gears of War. A semi-tactical shooter with out a peak-and-lean is frustrating and difficult since you have to expose half your body from cover to get a shot off, and if that half get hits by 2 or 3 shots you're dead. The AI opponents/friendlies take cover, blind fire, and etc. The player should be able to as well. Still a small gripe for a great game.

Also, Rock Band release party pics will be forth coming soon.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

So where have I been

So where have I been and why did I not post for 9 months. I guess it starts back in Feb '07 where I got really sick and hospitalized for an extended period. It was nothing serious, just an intestinal problem. I missed some work and had to catch up on that, and I just lost motivation to blog I guess. Well now I'm back to and trying to make an effort at it again.

So, past 9 months I have been working on Brothers in Arms for the Nintendo Wii. Its a port of the older Xbox games. The game hasn't shipped yet, but its coming out soon. I can't say when exactly, but before the end of the year. A game I did work on shipped back in early September, Medal of Honor: Airborne (MOHA). Game turned out okay. I think "okay" is a pretty fair assessment cause its a pretty damn mediocre game. At least the multiplayer is glassy smooth. Go Demiurge! Well I doubt anyone is playing the multiplayer since the launch of Halo 3. I also did some work on yet-to-be named project and also just started ramping up another project. Sorry, I can't say more details than that on those 2 games.

What else did I do? I went on a Caribbean cruise with friends from college. It was an awesome time, got to see some beautiful locations, partied it up, and got to reconnect with people I hadn't seen in along time. We also met some great people on the cruise and are still keeping in touch with them even now.

Other than that, not much else exciting has happened. The PS3 has been tanking, but I predicted that awhile ago :) The Wii has been far more successful than I ever expected its just loaded with crap software. The Xbox 360 keeps humming along with Halo 3, and Call of Duty 4 next week.

Also, how about them Pats! 9-0 baby! It was a nail biter in Indy, but in old fashion Patriots style Tom Brady lead a dazzling 4th quarter comeback.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Red Sox 2007 World Series champs!

So yeah, sorry, I haven't posted in over 9 months. I'm a lazy bastard and I just haven't taken the time out to write. I know I should, I got many things to talk about from sports, to video games, to game development, to politics, to whatever life may throw at a person. However, the recent World Series victory of the Red Sox and some discussion with my friend Manny has motivated me to post. Hopefully this is the start of me regularly posting. My World Series thoughts.

So Mike Lowell as MVP, an interesting choice. I thought Papelbon could be deserving of it (3 saves all more than 3 outs, 0 earned runs), but batting .400, 1 HR, and 4 RBIs is pretty damn good too. Its like when Manny won World Series MVP in '04; there were multiple potential MVP candidates, but he happened to get it. In the end it has turned out that it was totally worth it to trade Hanley Ramirez to get Beckett and then the super bonus that turned out to be Mike Lowell. I hope Lowell can comeback to Boston, but I'm not sure he'll get the deal he wants here in Boston. He's going to want more than 2 or 3 years, and since he is the best 3rd baseman in baseball (A-Rod doesn't count, he's a short stop), he'll be sure to get any contract he desires where every that may be (fuckin' yankees).

Anyways, 2007 was an awesome season and its great to win 2 world series in 4 years. I was just so happy and relieved with the 1 in 2004, but with 2007 it was just fun as hell. Red Sox nation is truly privileged. Summer is officially over now, its full time football season now. Go Pats!!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pictures of the damage

As promised I got pictures of the damage to my head. Here is one of the staples.
And the here is the metal bracket that did the damage. Damn that bracket!

My head is fine, however, and I will have the staples removed soon.

Monday, January 22, 2007

12 Staples, Baby!

Alright, so the Pats lost a tough one yesterday. They showed up strong, but then the defense just seemed to get ... tired? I dunno, but the defense played flat in the second half, and got rolled over. My hat is off to the Colts, they deserve the trip to the Super Bowl.

Anyways, on to more interesting news, and since people have been asking me, "How did it happen?" I will now recount the story of how I got 12 staples in my head last night.

So I was at my parents house, and just after the game ended, I was in the garage gathering my things and getting ready to head back to my apartment in Cambridge. I dropped something on the floor, bent down to pick it up, and quickly stood up slamming my head on something above. I reflexively put my hand to the top of my head, and when I removed it, I notice their is a decent amount of blood on my palm. My palm was a dark red and in the back of my head, I was just thinking "oh fuck, not now." I had been struggling with a nasty cold over the weekend and I didn't need a nasty bleeding head wound. I rushed upstairs and go to my mother:

"I need your help, get me a rag or a towel, or something."
"What, why?"
"I split my head open, hurry."

She rushes into the kitchen, proceeds to tell my dad, and I'm heading to the bathroom leaning my head forward and cupping my hands to catch the blood pouring from my head. As I am sitting on the toilet, the blood pooling in my hands, my father takes the trash can and tells me to bleed in there. I let go of my hands and the blood just splashes in the bucket. At this point I'm holding back some laughter, cause the situation just seems so ridiculous. I sitting there, a 24 year old man, my head with a gaping cut, my mommy tending to it, and my pops telling to bleed in a bucket and not on the floor. I think I was bleeding more then the time when I caught some shrapnel in the right temple at the firing range when I was 13.

My mom, applying pressure to the wound, as my dad comes back with wet and warm rag to begin cleaning the cut. My mom takes the rag and begins cleaning as I am handed another rag to wipe my hands of the blood. As my mother stops the bleeding, I get an ice pack from my pops and put it wound to stop the swelling. I starting to calm down a bit by this point, but I'm not feeling too much pain in my head.

Soon, however, I am starting to feel nauseous to my stomach. My mother is on the phone with the hospital to see which ER I will have to head too, and my pops fetches me some water. All the meanwhile my head is throbbing and my father is giving me the description of the wound, since I can't see it. "It's about 2 inches long and pretty deep," he said "but the bleeding has stopped. " That was good, cause I didn't know how much more blood my hair could take, it was soaked in it and it dripping off into the trash can. To give you an idea of where the gash is on my head, it is on the left side of my head and towards the back half.

The word comes down I have to head the ER in Peabody, and I hop into the car with my mom to go. I still have a wet rag to my head to quell any possible bleeding, and I'm starting to feel pretty nauseous. We get to the ER and start checking in. I am just rattling off whatever information the nurse wants. I was just flat out hurtin', and wanted to get stitched up and pass out. After 30 minutes of giving my information, getting my temperature, blood pressure, and so on, I get put into the service station and proceed to wait for the doctor. As I was sitting there on the table, I just wanted to lie down and close my eyes, but at the same time I wanted to remain alert. I took another wet cloth and wiped the dried blood off the bridge of my nose and my forehead.

The doctor comes in after about 20 minutes of waiting, and is kind of a jerk. Gives me some brief coordination tests to make sure I'm not suffering from a serious concussion and proceeds to tell my mum to leave. She leaves, kind of miffed, and he instructs to lie on my stomach as he preps the Novocaine and staples. The nurse come over with some water, puts some towels down around my back and ears, and cleans out the wound. The doctor proceeds to inject me with the Novocaine around the area of the cut. I felt 1 distinct poke and then 3 other more dull pokes. After about 2 minutes the doctor preps the first staple and tells me I'm about to feel a pinch. At this point, I really don't care, I just want the cut to be closed up and get outta there. He puts the first staple in and its kind of weird. I can feel something being pressed to my skull, I hear the click of the gun, and I feel the staple insert. No pain, however, and I can feel the staple pull close. The staples placed at either end of the cut kind of pinched, but it didn't hurt.

The doctor stops stapling and counts 11 of them. I tell him to put one more in cause it would be a nice even 12 and 11 is bad number, it's prime (I know, total dork). I don't know why, but I was in a joking mood, maybe I was loosing it a little. He said okay, probably knew I needed the 12th and he delivered it.

I cleaned up, walked out of the ER with my mom, and got home by 12:45am. I walked back into the garage to see where exactly I wanged my head. I initially thought it was the ceiling of the garage, but I hit the sharp portion of the garage door rail hanging from the ceiling. I knew where the exact spot was because little bits of my scalp was hanging from it. I went back upstairs, cleaned up (had to get the dried blood out of hair), and went to sleep with a throbbing head wound.

And there you have it. I went back to work today, just fine. My head ached a little bit, but nothing that could stop me from concentrating. I guess its a pretty cool story, nice war wound, just hurt like hell when it happened. It's a dull pain right now and I'll have the staples removed in 10 days. I do have a photo and I will post it later.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Happy New Year

Just providing a quick update to the blog. I do have somethings to say, but haven't spent much time organizing my thoughts, so this entry will be brief. I promise to be more dilegent from now on updating this thing, cause I know some people actually do read this.

Holidays were a whirlwind. As you may have heard the PS3 fell out of the gate pretty hard and the Wii has been a roaring success. I have much to say on that, but later.

My father is doing just fine, and recovering very well from his open heart surgery.

I am now working on a new-undisclosed project for the Wii :)