Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spider-Man Games Retrospective pt 5

Spider-Man 3 (2007)
To start with, this review is of the PS2 version which is naturally inferior to the next gen versions, but the game is still largely the same.
This is the first game in my retrospective that is actually a disappointment, just like the movie with the same name. I was immediately confused by the opening cutscene and I had no idea what was going on when I started playing. Many features from the previous game aren't being carried over to these later games, like slingshot or the ability to web zip to ceilings with one button. There might be an argument for doing this from a game design perspective in order to simplify things, but as a player I feel gypped that I don't have the powers that I had in previous games. Shouldn't games build on what was already done? Not take parts away and redo the basics. Web-swinging is also a bit worse, which I've always said is the most fun part of these games.
There are some new improvements that this game brings to the table: an upgrade menu to spend XP on new moves, and the player has influence over which gangs control parts of the city, and new villains that I haven't fought in the previously reviewed games. I'll go crazy if I have to fight Scorpion or Rhino one more time. The best thing is that I've been waiting a long time to finally get to play as Spider-Man wearing the Symbiote suite. 
Example of a glitch.
Spidey should be holding him in a fireman's carry.
But back to the bad stuff: I have to deliver fruit pies? This is really what Spider-Man would spend his time doing? And then later we retrieve STOLEN fruit pies?! What is with all the fruit pies?  
This game has is the poorest Spider-sense I've seen so far. You can barely see it on screen and it took me until the final boss fight to recognize the sound in time to dodge out of the way.  There's a lot of odd things in this game and I'm not sure if they're exactly bugs or just "by design." For instance, when Spidey retrieves a stolen stick of dynamite, he just hands it off to what looks like a random person on the street, not a cop in uniform or anything. "Here you go, citizen. I trust you'll turn this into the proper authorities and won't blow your arm off or anything!"  Gamefaqs has 125 different types of glitches counted for this game.  After I finished the game it immediately froze and I lost my progress. Maybe the next-gen console versions are a bit better.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spider-Man Games Retrospective pt 4

Ultimate Spider-Man (2005)
Up to this point these games have only gotten better. But with this one I'm hesitant to say that it was better than the previous one. I also won't say that it was worse.
I was surprised to find out that Treyarch released this only a year after the previous game. The main gameplay mechanics are very similar but the style of the game is in such a different direction. The previous two games had realism from the movies, but this game goes back to the comic books using animated comic panels and cel-shading that simulates an 'inking' feel.
For clarity's sake, The Ultimate Spider-Man is not the regular Spider-Man that everyone's familiar with; it's is a modernized re-imagining of the hero as 15 year old high school student. [spoilers] ...who is currently deceased in the books and Miles Morales now wears the Spider-tights. (UGH, I dislike the idea of multiple Spider-Men)
The guys who made the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, also headed this game. In the eyes of many comic fans, these guys can do no wrong. So it's cool that this game is made by people with passion for the Marvel characters and stories. The story kind of fits into the Ultimate comics, but most people won't notice the inconsistencies.
Manhattan is again the playground for Spidey, but this time we also have access to Queens where the buildings are much shorter.
Many gamers that aren't big Spider-Fans are turned off by the style and look of the game. I didn't try this game when it came out for that same reason. But now that I've given it a shot I regret that decision. Once you get passed the childish look and simplified controls (web swinging is no longer as intricate as the previous game) this is still fun to play, especially from a fans perspective because you can play as Venom, which is awesome and vicious (back-break move and eating people!). After playing for a few hours the style grew on me and I became impressed with how comic-book-y the cel shading looks. I'm surprised there aren't more superhero games using this technique. It'd make a sweet Deadpool game. Also the animated comic book panels were pretty cool, and they would sometimes show up during gameplay to kinda zoom in on something important, which is a cool way to show your player something they should know (instead of just putting a twinkle on it, via Resident Evil). One downside to this style is that much of the text is over enthusiastic. All the hints are really important! They definitely don’t overuse exclamation points!
Side missions are still repetitive, but they're less annoying because there are no longer kids crying about their lost balloons. However, the resulting increase in reliance on the minimap takes away focus from the action in the middle of the screen. A couple of times the minimap even blocked the Spider-Sense so I couldn't tell that I was about to get smacked around.
The game started off recapping the black suite in order to introduce Venom. I want to play as black suite Spider-Man because he’s much more powerful. But I can see why they wouldn’t want to give the player powers and then take them away for the rest of the game. Then the first thing you do when you start playing is face off against Venom, which is very intimidating if you are familiar to what’s going on here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though.
It’s Nerd Rage time: there’s a part in this game where Peter Parker is kickin around in his civvies, and nobody questions why he’s leaping 50 feet in the air in front of pedestrians, or doing other very Spider-Man-esque things. Also, racing the Human Torch? Not only extremely frustrating for the player, but why would any sensible grounded person race someone WHO CAN FLY?
My favorite part of this game was [spoilers] …the fight of Wolverine vs Venom, controlled by the player.  For some unfathomable reason I’ve never pondered this battle before. It’s really a great matchup: Venom is nearly impervious to Wolverine’s attacks, and Wolverine can heal just about anything Venom can dish out. To my knowledge this hadn't been done before up to this point (or at least done well).
Voice acting for Spider-Man in this game and the last two are bad. He sounds like a whiny little kid. I mean, he IS a kid, but he’s also a hero with the selfless determination and responsibilities, so in that way he’s more mature than most adults I know. The voice acting just doesn’t reflect that. Spider-Man is much more than funny quips now and again.
Most unlockables aren’t worth mentioning, but this game had character sheets which I really appreciated as a game developer myself.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spider-Man Games Retrospective pt 3

Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The game based on the sequel to the film based on a comic book character. Sounds like a recipe for a disaster like Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game. But surprisingly this one is the best Spider-Man game for its time. I'm really digging how these games just keep getting better.
This game really captures the fun of being Spider-Man, largely due to the greatly improved web swinging. In the stories, Peter Parker always goes out swinging to clear his head. And there's reason for that. It's awesome. The physics and realism put into swinging around a fully mapped out Manhattan really makes this game worth it. Not to mention that Spidey actually anchors his webs on buildings instead of just shooting them into the sky out of frame. And we FINALLY get to go down to street level, whereas in the previous games the player would die if they swing below a certain altitude (sometimes with no explanation).
The menu system is greatly improved, and the dizzying effect that the previous game had is completely gone. The story follows the film pretty closely, with some additional characters from the comics thrown in, Black Cat being my favorite. My favorite actor Bruce Campbell returns to voice the sometimes-helpful narrator.
On the bad side, the main story missions can be too challenging, the mini missions repetitive, and the animation gets really jittery up close. Spider-sense is used more in this game than the previous ones, but often times it doesn't give the player enough time to dodge. The game is set up in a sandbox style ala GTA III (2001), which was so successful I'd bet that Spider-Man 2 was basically saying, "Me too!" While that makes it great for web-slinging around the city and feeling like a hero for retrieving a kids balloon, the rest of the game just doesn't fill in the great empty hole that a sandbox game creates. There aren't that many main quests and there's only so many times I can repeat the same side quest where I have to beat up some thugs. On the positive side, I bet Spidey feels the same way about beating up thugs day in and day out.
And lastly, I really appreciated the "Klattu Verata Nikto" line thrown in the Mysterio battle as a referrence to Army of Darkness (a film which the director of Spider-Man also made).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Evil Dead: The Musical

I'm volunteering backstage for Santa Barbara's version of the Evil Dead Musical which plays October 27th through 31st. I helped build some set pieces including the possessed trees. I got to use a power sander, jigsaw, and a circular saw. I don't get many chances to use power tools in my line of work. I'm also helping with bartending during the show.
My history with this musical goes back to when it came down from Canada years ago. I entered an Ash costume contest and won first place, which was a ticket to the off-broadway show. Unfortunately that didn't include a plane ticket to New York so I couldn't go. I bought the soundtrack as soon as it came out and had all the songs memorized before I finally saw the show in Martinez. It eventually it came to Chico. Sadly I was too busy with my work to get involved with it then, so I'm very happy to have another chance at it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Spider-Man Games Retrospective pt 2

I skipped Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro because it looks like much of the same as the previously reviewed game, and it's a bit difficult to find since retail stores no longer carry Playstation one games.
Spider-Man (2002)
This Spider-man game has the look and [general] story of the first movie which came out the same year. I played this game when I was in high school at the peak of being a Spider-Fan. At the time, this was the best Spider-Man game available. The game mechanics are much the same as the previous game with improvements going along with the next generation (for the time) of consoles. This includes controlling the camera and air combat. The camera controls were much needed but not entirely polished, but I think many of the games at the time were struggling with this same thing. Web swinging and air combat are much more fun as you can go faster and spend whole levels without ever touching the ground. Horizontal zip lines are also new and add more speed to web-traveling. When it comes to webbing around it seems that more speed equals more fun. Graphics are improved and faces animate when talking. Also new to the series in this game is attack combos, which are neat but I didn't end up using them very much.
 The main menu makes me dizzy. The music is fast and all the words pulse strongly. It makes me antsy to chose an option just to get out of the menu. The harsh reds and blacks are also not very welcoming.
Learning how to play the games is a lot of fun for me personally because Bruce Campbell narrates and I'm a big fan of the Evil Dead series (which the director of Spider-Man also made). The secret unlocks are plenty, but not as good as the previous game. I think that's because it was geared toward the movie stuff, and that doesn't stand the test of time as well as the content geared toward the comics.
I mentioned in my last review how I enjoyed the explanation for killing the player if he descends too low while web-swinging in the open city. In this game there is no explanation, so my inner nerd is asking why Spidey can't go down to street level.
The music is sometimes too epic and it loops the same song (a personal pet peeve). In the beginning of the game I turned it down because I was just walking around, not really deserving of epic music.
AI, as usual, is a bit dumb. In the sewer level the thugs chasing me ran right into the death water like lemmings.
I think it's funny when I find empty rooms with no purpose or if it just houses a single switch. Ahh, environment art and deadlines, what terrible foes you are.
One thing I've always wondered about the physics of Spider-Man: how does he zipline? His web shooters would have to suck the webbing back at super speeds. And In the movie he has organic webshooters ...that seems like it would hurt.
Another thing that I wonder about, the player can press a button to shoot web and it drains the web bar, but if it's drained you can still shoot webbing.
One level had a "super mech" in Oscorp, which struck me very similar to Rex in Metal Gear Solid. This isn't a bad thing for me personally because I love that game series.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bust N Rush trailer

Bust N' Rush is the game we've been developing at Techtonic Games in Santa Barbara. We just finished a 10-day crunch and submitted to the Independent Games Festival. This is the first time we've publicly given out any info on our game.
Soon we will have a playable demo, so keep on the lookout for that.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Spider-Man Games Retrospective pt1

Now that I’m done with school I can play all the games I put off.  I’m going to play through the Spider-Man series starting with the Playstation version.  This Spidey retrospective won’t be comprehensive, but I’ll cover most of the [good] games.
 Spider-Man (2000)
                The year 2000 saw the first 3D Spider-Man game. Since the movies hadn’t come out yet, the style of the game is from the animated series from the 90’s, which I grew up watching. Stan Lee narrates, giving it the comic book vibe too. This game is old school Playstation graphics so it’s got the claw-hands and the static faces (with the exception of venom whose jaw opens and closes).

                The game is geared towards kids and fans of the comics. Even the controls are optionally dumbed down to “kid mode” which simplifies web-slinging. Several bits are for fans, like variant costumes, storyboards, comic covers, and cameos from other Marvel superheroes.
The thing I always enjoyed about this game as a teenager was that the design limitations of the city areas were written into the plot. If Spidey drops below a certain altitude he dies. Fog blocked the player’s view of the streets below, which could not have been done very well at the time.  [SPOILERS] This fog is explained in the plot: it was released by Doc Ock in order to prepare the citizens of New York for being taken over by Symbiotes. Explaining design limitations with plot elements is awesome and neat to me.
Bugs sometimes make the game difficult or easy, such as the boss Scorpion being unable to pass through a doorway and the player can safely take pot shots at him from a distance. There is no control over the camera so the player is often frustrated by attacking enemies off screen and sometimes ends up facing the wrong direction. And then there’s nothing more frustrating than  running around a health pickup in circles because you’re fighting the controls. 3D games were still growing up at this point, so these flaws are somewhat understandable in hindsight, but downright unacceptable by today’s gaming standards.
The ending cutscene is cheesy (even for a comic book game), where Spidey, Capt America, Daredevil, and Punisher are playing cards at a table. First of all, why play cards in costume? I know Spidey has a secret identity, but there’s nothing stopping Frank or Steve from wearing street clothes. Whatever, it’s a game. But Daredevil and Punisher NEVER get along and could not sit at a table peacefully together long enough to play cards. See this fan film as an example:
Ps I’m pretty sure that while chasing down Spider-Man, the NY police were straight up destroying buildings using military-grade attack helicopters in this game. That level is kinda awkward in a post 9/11 world.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Emmys

In the The 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards of 2011 I was a Matte Painter. My 'happy' fantasy painting was used as a background for a shot in the opening segment hosted by Jane Lynch. Below you'll see a screenshot with my work in the background. Here is a link to the art: