Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sims 3

I have an admission to make. I have never played the Sims before. Therefore this review is probably unique, as I am coming to this game anew. It is a very difficult game for me to review as it is difficult for me to know where it is the game letting me down, and where it is me not enjoying the basic premise of the game.

One of the most significant improvements to the game is the introduction of an explorable city. Technically, this is very impressive. You can zoom right in and watch what your Sims are watching on their TV and zoom right out to see the entire neighbourhood without even a whiff of loading screen.

The graphics do help you in to the Sims world. The audio sounds good and when you zoom in all the way, you can really get inside your Sim's world. There is nice audio variation, and the whole world looks and sounds very believable. Your Sims, for the large part, act believably, moving around and communicating convincingly .

The game also introduces the “moodlets” system. A moodlet is a symbol which shows a single emotion affecting your Sim. It tells you the impact it is having, what is causing it and when it will go/get worse. For example you might have a tired moodlet, which says that the sim is very tired, making him 30 less happy, and in two hours time, he will become extremly tired. These are very good at showing instantly what is affecting your Sims and what you need to do at making them happier.

Both of these features help to minimize the barrier between our world and the world of the Sims. This is very important as the game's main pleasure come from the reality TV style game play of watching the lives of these characters. If you were constantly reminded of the virtual nature, it would be hard to relate to the characters.

However, the technical improvement come at a cost. The game takes a long time to load at the start. On my reasonably powerful computer (4GB RAM, 2.4Ghz x2 processor, 256Mb graphics card) it runs fairly well on low-medium settings. However, fairly well is the important part, it hardly feels lightning fast. Furthermore, I had to turn down the settings, as it was running at an inconsistent frame rate. For what is meant to be a casual game, I find this surprising.

My only criticism as a first time Simer would be working out what I should do for my first game. There are a number of choices at the start. I chose to make a family of four, which turned out to be rather ambitious for my first game. I also, foolishly, randomly created all but one of my characters and ended up with a mother who hated children and the outdoors. I also felt there should have been more guidance when choosing where to put your house. I ended up living in a very expensive part of town meaning, leaving me no money for improvements.

One of my favourite parts of the game is creating stuff. Building houses is fun as it is easy to do. However, I found that often there wasn't enough money to do it. Also, as what you made had to be practically useful, you couldn't have as much fun as you could in Spore. For content creation, I much preferred Spore's creators, which were so much easier to make interesting things. I also prefer the way you made styles to go on Spore creations, as I felt it gave you more freedom.

Another element that I though was superior in Spore was the online connectivity. One of my favourite parts about Spore was the fact that other people's creations were integrated so well in to your universe. In Sims, to get other people's stuff, you actually have to leave the game. There is no “Visit a friend” where you take your Sim's to someone else's game, which would have worked well. For me, this is a major disappointment. There is a load of potential for community building in this game. For example, you can create movies, so why not have it so that you can go to the cinema and watch other peoples creations?

My other major problem with the game may just be because it is a Sims game. For me, the actions are quite repetitive. I don't enjoy deliberately messing things up - I never made disasters in Sim City, so for me the game is just about doing things right. But then, when I am playing at my best, things run smoothly, and that is it. I do get attached to my characters, but not a lot. They annoy me as much as make me smile. They get unnecessarily angry when people get in their way, which stop me relating to their lives. It is nice when you build up a family and get a sense of continuity, but the day to day challenges frustrate me, rather than entertain me.

I also think the disasters that upset their lives lack variety. The shower breaks, the sink breaks, the oven breaks. You never get neighbours who start fighting in the street, or major crime or anything. Maybe it is because I am not the target market. But for me, the game gets repetitive if I play it how I want to play it. While I do get pleasure from seeing their lives run well, it is not enough to combat the repetitiveness of the rest of the game.

For me, that is probably the biggest problem. The gameplay is repetitive and lacks any substantial rewards to keep me going. At the end of the day, I haven't saved the world, or won a battle. I have just got another day older. This game does a lot well. There is plenty of variety within the jobs, the world looks great, the Sims interact with each other really well. The depth is really impressive. You have so much control other things like organising parties and days out. However, I did not feel like I can ever spend enough time or money on the parts I enjoy; building my house, organising parties, having nicely running families and instead find myself putting up with the repetitive area's of the gameplay. However, I am prepared to except that the Sims is not aimed at me, and therefore my thoughts on the gameplay are unfair.

However, I don't think my thoughts on the lack of multi player integration are. I am surprised by the barriers put in the way of content sharing and the lack of online play. The technical issues also surprise me, given the target market, casual gamers, will not have a super computer or want to spend the time messing around with graphic settings to get the right balance of frame rate and appearance.

In conclusion, I don't think Sims is for me. However, even if it was, I don't believe that it has as many features as similar games such as Spore, which I do enjoy.

This review is based on a review copy supplied by the publisher.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Project Natal = new console?!

It is rumoured that Project Natal – Microsoft's new motion camera and voice recognition hardware - will launch with a new console. This is a shocking revelation if Microsoft really is going to be releasing a new console. This announcement, assuming it is accurate, is highly disturbing.

In the article, they talk about how games will be developed for both platforms, with the new platform having slightly superior graphics. This has a number of implications. Firstly, the already expensive business of producing HD games is going to get a whole lot more expensive. Ok, so the hardware is going to be similar, and it won't be double production costs. None the less, it is going to cost more, even if it is only one and half times more.

And what do developers get with this increased cost, certainly not increased sales. It isn't like there is a market waiting for this console. Think about it, casual gamers, who would be lured in by Natal would prefer to buy the (presumably) cheaper Xbox 360 with Natal. The traditional gamers already own a 360 and the best case scenario is that they will ditch the 360 for the new box. Net gain in customers due to the new console, 0.

This increased cost without increased profit might contribute to the safe-bet game market. We will see more sequels and less new IP. We might even see increased cost in games across the board (Microsoft, I don't imagine, would want new Xbox games more expensive that 360 games, and Sony and Nintendo might be tempted to follow suit).

Speaking in really predictive terms, this may speed up the inevitable, piracy on consoles. One of the reasons the PC market is shrinking compared with the console market is piracy. It is assumed that piracy on console is impossible. Nothing is impossible for a pirate. Given time, all the consoles will be cracked, the market will level out and new anti-piracy measures will have to be taken. Increasingly expensive games may act as a catalyst to the process.

And then you start hitting other problems. Sure, at first the new games will look slightly better on the new console, but hey, us 360 owners don't mind, our games still look fine. But then developers start investing money in making new games look great for the new console. There are a couple of levels that don't quite run at 60FPS on the Xbox 360. No huge deal, they were epic levels. Then it starts appearing in places where it matters, online. New Xbox owners will get a lag free (read: advantageous) experience, whilst 360 users have to lag along. Then 360 owners have to start installing games to get them to play. They have to start turning down graphics options in game if they want a solid 60FPS. Remind you of any other dying piece of hardware (in terms of game sales). Oh yeah, the PC!

It is very early days, this console hasn't even be confirmed. None the less, I play console games because everything just works. As a gamer, I prefer RTS's to action games and FPS's are better on the PC (except Halo 3, which I enjoy loads, but not because it is on the console) None the less, I play a huge amount of console games because everything on the PC is a bit iffy, even though my PC is good. This development, however, represents a trend (along with patches) towards the PC for consoles. Hopefully I am over-exaggerating, but consider this a warning.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

E3 - Nintendo Press Conference

Due to technical issues and my review copy of Sims 3, I did not watch either the Sony or Nintendo conferences live. I have since watched the recording of Nintendo's (I'll watch Sony's tomorrow). Here are my thoughts on said conference.

It was really lame. I don't even mean what they were announcing, which actually had some nice games, which I'll come to in a minute. What it was really lacking was any glamour, excitement or show pizazz that make E3 E3. In actual fact, I am more excited about a forth coming Metroid than ODST, but when Microsoft announce something, they are so much better at it. Everything that they announced at their conference, felt like a huge thing which you could really get excited about, as you can tell from my coverage of it. With Nintendo, even with their big announcements, I found myself falling asleep. The whole conference was poorly presented and, unlike Microsoft, did not make use of multiple presenters, instead relying on Reggie and the stupid ski woman from last year.

It was like they forgot what E3 was, a chance to show off your best. They did precisely what Microsoft said they weren't going to do, talk about sales. Seriously, it is so dull. The who press conference lacked excitement or charisma. It felt like they hadn't even tried.

So if you could keep yourself awake through the dull presentation, you were rewarded with some interesting game announcements. Admittedly, they had nothing on Microsoft. There is a trailer for a new Metroid game. It is unclear even what perspective the game will take place is, with shots that seem both in the first person and side on. Once again, Nintendo let themselves down by not having a play demo or anyone talking about the game. They said there were some surprises for Metroid fans, but they didn't say what. Nintendo, this mysterious thing doesn't work! Give us something.

They also announced a sequel to Super Mario Galaxy which looked identical to the first, but providing the level design is just as good, then that will be good. Once again, there was no demonstration of the game or explanation or anything.

They also announced a new Mario game (they made 4 Mario related announcements, if your keeping count) where the main feature is 4 player co-op. It looks quite interesting, and back to basics Mario style platforming. It looks like it could be a lot of fun when you get four players together. No doubt it won't use online, which is a shame, so it will stay as a fun party experience.

They also demonstrated Wii Motion Plus, a heart beat monitor, and Facebook on DS, but I wasn't fussed by these. Wii Motion Plus was out did by Natal and should have been in the Wii Remote in the first place.

There was no Zelda announcement (except for DS), a short video for the Conduit and very little to keep my attention. I am sorry Nintendo, I stuck up for you last year and the year before. I have stood by the Wii when all my friends have turned away, but that was pathetic, I am so sorry, you have failed.

Monday, June 01, 2009

E3 - Microsoft Press Conference

Well, I unbelievably forgot all my E3 predictions beyond the announcement of Forza 3, which is pretty much a given anyway. The Microsoft press conference is scheduled for 18:20GMT tonight. You can watch it live on Gamespot. I will be posting thoughts here as the conference starts. The one thing I am desperately hoping for is Metal Gear Solid for the 360, although I am not optimistic.

The other major thing to look forward to at this conference is Peter Molyenux. The very fact that he has been given as slot means he must have some announcement. I think it is one of three things.

  1. A big addition to Fable 2 - most likely
  2. Fable Wars - a RTS based on the Fable franchise - not likely
  3. Fable 3 - I think it is too soon to be announcing anything at E3, even less likely
The big addition, which I think is most likely, will be akin to Halo 3: Recon. It will use the same engine as Fable 2, which will allow them to release it before the next E3, but will be a whole game. What I suspect they will do is, it will be about your child. As those who have already seen the future, you will know that your child is destined for great things. What I think they might do is create a game set 20 years after Fable 2. The world will be based on what you did in Fable 2. It will magnify the decisions you made and the character you became and alter the world accordingly. For example, if you have been corrupt, everyone would be poor. This would be similar to how the world changed after the training section, except on a larger scale.

As for an RTS, I think it is possible, but not very likely. Peter has talked before about new technologies which allow them to animate many unique things at the same time, the kind of technology required for an RTS. However, it seems unlikely they would have any where near enough work to show.

As for Fable 3, while there definitely will be a Fable 3, I think it is too soon to announce it, E3 2010 maybe.

Skip to the conclusion


Conference thoughts
[14:20] - Conference starts in 4 hours
[18:25] - And we are off
[18:30] - No, I can't get the stream either...
[18:40] - Finally got a feed, except it's the Beatles!
[18:42] - MS say no charts, is that because of bad sales?
[18:46] - At first, I thought it was just a Wii Fit board, but to be fair, it moves on the ground, which is a huge improvement. But seriously, stop using celebrities, it's so annoying
[18:49] - CoD trailer, already seen, still looks pretty cool
[18:56] - CoD game play footage shown. Looks very CoD 4ish, some nice environments and some gimmicks to make you feel part of the story. Oh yeah, and plenty of action. Should be good for the CoD fans
[18:57] - Urgh, Final Fantasy - not my cup of tea I'm afraid
[19:03] - Ooo, Epic Games, give that man I microphone
[19:05] - Ooo, a Xbox version of Metroid Prime made by Epic, awesome!
[19:07] - Free racing game! Otherwise I wouldn't care
[19:10] - L4D 2?! That better be coming for PC!
[19:11] - Sam Fisher, the new Jack Bauer?! I just wish they could go back to Chaos Theory days
[19:18] - Forza 3!!!
[19:20] - Rolling cars! And interesting environments
[19:21] - They are right about the painting community, I know people who are obsessed
[19:24] - That was awesome... They just did this crazy video of car stunts
[19:25] - Halo 3: Recon footage, they've brought the big guns out early
[19:27] - Stealth gameplay nice...
[19:28] - Certainly an interesting way of telling a story, sounds quite cool
[19:30] - 22nd Sept ODST will drop, new secret project!
[19:32] - Halo 0 presumably, guess Microsoft couldn't resist (Actually called Halo reach and is coming in 2010)
[19:35] - Don't know what to make of this game, Alan Wake, the fact that it is being presented by the writer is quite positive, too early to say I think
[19:38] - MS clearly have high hopes for it, that was quite a long demo. Looks quite Resi Evilish, coming in Spring 2010
[19:39] - Music is coming to Xbox Live, I bet it's not in England...
[19:41] - Yay, being included for once, except I bet it is only for Sky subscribers or something stupid like that :(
[19:45] - I don't care about these things... but coming up is Peter Molyneux!
[19:48] - She is almost as embarrassing as that person from Nintendo last year, except I feel pity more than anger. But yay to Twitter!
[19:50] Big announcement coming up. Oh my word, MGS4!!!!!
[19:51] - OK, not MGS 4, but still, better than no Metal Gear Solid
[19:52] - Don't know who Raiden is, I have never played MGS in my life, how embarrassing
[19:53] - Motion controller for the 360? Wait... Me... the controller?
[19:55] - Why is it with new control schemes the adverts had to be SO embarrassing. Still, looks technically impressive
[19:46] - Tony Hawk just got outplayed...
[19:58] - Life Experience is quite impressive, but like the Wii, it will need games to make use of it
[19:59] - Stephen Spielburg as taken the stage, thank goodness it isn't Peter Molyneux
[20:03] - Take those stupid glasses off NOW!
[20:05] - Nintendo, consider yourself challenged. I imagine these demoers are over-exaggerating things and helping it work, but still looks pretty impressive. And that was a cheap shot at Nintendo
[20:11] - On the second thoughts, that sounds like quite a lot of effort for most games...
[20:12] - Peter Molyneux!
[20:15] - Get lost! How are they doing this? How?! Even without the face recognition it is impressive...
[20:17] - Well, I wasn't predicting that *hastily deletes predictions*


Well Microsoft's conference is over, and it certainly had some surprises. I am pleased about the Metal Gear Solid, although it was really MGS 4 that I wanted to play. None the less, I am sure this new title will contain the same type of thing as MGS 4, which I suppose will have to do. ODST looked really good,(how many of you spotted I put Recon before correcting it to ODST?). Obviously the new Halo is good, but to be honest, it is going to feel forced and a lot of people (me) will be unwilling to drop Halo 3 after sinking time (maps) and money (maps) in to it. The 2010 release date will slip without a doubt, I reckon early 2011 or very late 2010 at best.

The big thing was obviously this motion thing (by the way, the name is stupid, no one is going to remember that, it's worse than the Wii, at least that was short). Technically, it looks impressive, but these things always do in such controlled environments. What Peter Molyneux has supposedly done is incredible, but I will wait until someone from a respected site says it's as good as he says it is. Like the Wii, this technology is entirely dependant on developers. If we just see another batch of mini-game/party games, then it will fail. Non-gamers have already bought the Wii, they will be unwilling, in these economic times, to buy another games console, even with this easily marketable gimmick.

It is also going to suffer from the same problems as the Wii did in that, I don't want to stand up for a few hours playing games. I am not going to buy hardware for the sake of easy menu navigation and a few mini games I'll only play once. I'll buy it if it enhances the games that I play loads of, but then, if I play them loads, I don't want to stand up...

I think that it is going to be hard to develop for and, as developers have already invested a large amount of money in to traditional 360 development cycles, they will be unwilling to pour more money in to an unproven tech. None the less, even my scepticism can't quite stop me feeling a little excited if it really does work that well.

Some nice game previews there, Splinter Cell looks like 24, CoD 6 looks like CoD 4 but better and obviously a new Left4Dead is good for everyone, and Steam will obviously be releasing for the PC. I was surprised to not see anything about Bioshock 2 or Assassins Creed 2

Overall, a very nice conference, Nintendo must be crying. They just got out-done at their own game, however it turns out in the end.

"All your base are belong to us"