This is what Jak II: Renegade looks like on CryEngine

I have doubts that a realistic looking Jak game would be better than the original cartoon-style, but this is some impressive work here:

 

While what CryEngine does is really different to the PlayStation 2 aesthetics, it’s actually really good looking. Too bad we didn’t have the chance to see any character models.

Advertisements

Review: Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition (PS Vita)

It was difficult to not notice how console gaming changed first person shooters in the last two decades, to a point, that it was almost impossible to imagine that an old school FPS like Duke Nukem 3D would make an appearance on a console. And now it’s on a handheld as well, it’s really weird seeing this nostalgic little title on my PS Vita.


duke-nukem-3d

I’m really amazed how it stood the test of time, I almost forgot how great this game is. Most people recognize Duke Nukem by his macho weird humor and references to movies like Aliens and Evil Dead. But there’s obviously more to the success, it’s a game worth studying, not just playing.

First, the level design is still incredible. The amount of secrets, the complex, intricate pathways, the pacing, the learning curve, the difficulty curve is all logical, very well balanced, neatly put together. The building of tension and atmosphere is superb, and the variety of weapons is actually needed for tactical approach. This game has true depth. I never noticed that when I played it as a kid, since I just used cheat codes. Now on the Vita there aren’t cheats, but there is a kind of cheat-like saving system.

dukenukem3d

The game lets you rewind time in this version (presumably in other console versions as well). It’s really intuitive, although sometimes it tends to become corrupted, so I advise to save manually as well. Trophies / achievements aren’t really hard to obtain, anybody who has basic knowledge of the game, can get a 100% rather quickly (although I haven’t tried multiplayer yet).

The graphics are fine, sprites tend to get distorted when viewing from certain high or low angles, but the textures and the resolution do this game a service: the lighting, the variety of set pieces are still really nice, especially on a small screen. The humor, the references might be dated, but it’s still a really amazing experience, especially with Jon St. John’s laidback macho voice acting performance.

duke_nukem_3d_megaton_02

Now, the bonus chapters are quite weak. It’s the major problem with this edition. The Birth is still an official expansion, but it starts to fall apart, frustrating puzzles, secret switches, overpowered enemies and lackluster level design are signs of that this game worked better as a trilogy of chapters. Duke it Out in D. C., Duke: Nuclear Winter and Duke Caribbean: Life’s a Beach are curiosities, fan made content, and not very good, the game at this point becomes silly and unprofessional. But it’s a free addition, so… who am I to complain.

Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition is now free on PlayStation Plus, I recommend getting it, it’s a piece of gaming history that is actually playable and enjoyable to this day.

The art of Sebastian von Buchwald

Here’s a Spanish artist, Sebastian von Buchwald. I’m not sure if it’s his real name, but anyway, it’s awesome. Even more awesome is his art.

He does some really interesting stuff with video game characters, especially Mario and Luigi. It’s hard to describe it. Most of them look like this:

mario_vs__pac_man_by_hermesgildo-d32lq4b

 

He has a whole set of raging, fighting Marios. And then, he does something completely different:

future-soldier

 

And he did an interesting webcomic called Science Fiction Segue, and it features moving gifs:

010

Versatile,  isn’t it? Check out his website!

 

Lens flare should be banned from first person shooters

I have been playing Alien Isolation recently and I noticed that it has the lens flare effects of the original movie – which is awesome, by the way. I looks authentic, nice. Yet, it’s fundamentally wrong at the same time.

Many cinematic effects in video games don’t make sense. Especially in first person games. We don’t see through a lens, we see through our own eyes. Not through a camera. The three big sinners are:

#1 Lens Flare

lensflare1

This is mildly annoying, since our eyes can actually produce the effect through tears and blurry vision, but it’s not like we ever experience our reality as a freaking J. J. Abrams movie. I noticed that somebody opened a thread in the original forum, so I’m not alone with this opinion.

 

#2 Depth of Field

dof

This is especially awful. Depth of field effect means that anything we look at is sharper than the background / foreground. It’s a movie effect, and it works in photography well, it creates contrast. But gaming isn’t about pretty pictures, it’s about quick observation. In Uncharted it was pretty distracting. When the character looks at something, the background blurs, and if an enemy suddenly starts shooting from the background, you’ll lose precious seconds while trying to figure out how to bring them to focus. Our eyes is quicker. It already uses a focus / depth of field system. We don’t need a second one. Our eyes move way quicker than any transitional effect, and ultimately it will interfere with the gameplay.

#3 Motion blur

blur

Again, can’t see the point if we already can’t follow quick movement with our own eyes. Blurring is registered immediately as something artificial, and the immersion just breaks.

Ultimately, this is of course just an opinion, sometimes these effects are utilized well, but I think games should use them sparingly.

The Art of Michaël Defroyennes

Not long ago, Outcast 1.1 was released on Steam and GOG.com. Although the Kickstarter project to reboot the game failed, it was interesting to see the direction it was going.

Today’s featured artist is Michaël Defroyennes, who did some gorgeous art for Outcast and the cancelled Outcast 2. What I really like about his art is that he doesn’t make fantasy wildly weird and extreme, his imaginary places seem familiar and alien at the same time. I really like his depictions of ruins in exotic, but plausible settings.

Sample art for the cancelled game Totems:

Totems Monkey district

Concept art for Outcast 2:

Outcast2Kizaar2

Art for the game Silhouette:

SilhouetteTemplesConcept

Rasafrackin sombulato, indeed. Check out more on his blog!

How Thief (2014) failed as a Thief game

I can’t really consider Thief (2014) a disappointment, since I wasn’t expecting it to be good. As many reviewers pointed out, Thief doesn’t even work as a standalone game, it has serious issues, many of them come from its troubled development at Eidos Montreal. But I’m going to focus on the reasons why I find Thief unworthy of the name Thief.

1. Lore

The biggest reason why the original Thief games succeeded was because they had a rich, atmospheric setting, unique characters and factions. In the new Thief, pretty much everyone is a backstabbing, selfish bastard or some sick, oppressed citizen. There was almost no implication that the City had a mythological past, other than a few fan-service references, there was no magical, weird stuff that made the original games so unique.

2. The philosophy behind the lore

In the original trilogy, The Order of Hammer, the Pagans, and the Keepers weren’t only there as factions, as set pieces: they were symbols of various philosophical ideas, and their conflict wasn’t only political. Dividing the City into factions that represent technology, nature, and balance may seem a bit superficial, but there were actually developed, well-written ideas behind them, they also had conflicts with themselves. Reading the precepts of the Hammerite order was enlightening: everything they stood for was logical, yet insane at the same time. It made me understand how people shape history and vice versa. None of this philosophical depth is found in the 2014 version.

thief-4

3. Grittiness for the sake of grittiness

This has been said before, but it’s true. Garrett is no longer sarcastic because of his past, but because the sake of it. He’s bitter, he’s awful, he doesn’t actually care. He did care in the original trilogy, he didn’t talk like he did, but there were much more subtleties in his character. He had humor. The characters and the world of the reboot is just bland and dark. Despite the name, Thief: The Dark Project wasn’t actually dark. It’s world wasn’t violent, unforgiving, hateful. It was foreboding. It was a mystical, surreal experience, not gritty. I missed that in the reboot.

4. Exploration

Big, sprawling levels with many secrets – they are gone. If technology doesn’t allow us to create bigger levels, the game won’t work as an immersive simulator. Exploration was the key of the success in previous installments, and it doesn’t work in the reboot: loading screens and points of no return tear the levels apart.

5. Lack of colors

I took this (mildly spoiler-y) screenshot myself:

cathedralYou may notice that it contains circa two colors. This is actually really troubling, since the original games, especially Thief II played with warm and cold colors so well. Even Eidos Montreal’s first game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution had the “only one color” effect, but it was used for a reason. Here, you can see that Thief is just bleak, unimaginative, boring. Needlessly dark in tone, and not a single reference to the elemental magic and its associated colors. The vivid green of pagan forests. The blood-red flag of the Hammerite order. There’s no contrast between certain missions, and if there’s no contrast, you don’t want to explore new parts of the City. It’s all the same. The same atmosphere throughout the whole game. It’s nauseating.

I wanted to love the new Thief, even if it doesn’t have Stephen Russell, even if it doesn’t have the lore, the factions, but it misses so much more. The atmosphere, the uneasy feeling, the exploration. We needed that, no other franchise does these things this well.

It’s been a year since it was released, but I never bothered to try is again. Maybe I should, but it was so uninspiring, that I just can’t.

 

The importance of the Jak & Daxter franchise

People are constantly trying to convince Naughty Dog (developers of hit games like Uncharted and The Last of Us), that they should return to their PlayStation 2 mascots, Jak and Daxter.

They have obviously moved on, they became big, they work with motion capture and bigger budgets now. There were attempts to continue the series with the help of other developers the PSP-spinoff Daxter was quite good, but Jak & Daxter: The Final Frontier didn’t exactly meet Naughty Dog’s standards. Years later, it seems that no one bothers to resurrect the franchise, while the other big 3D platformer of PlayStation, Ratchet & Clank is more popular than ever.

So what made Jak & Daxter so unique? Why is it a difficult task to reboot or continue the series?

1. The world doesn’t make any sense

jak1

This is awesome, by the way. The original Jak & Daxter introduced a complete sandbox worldmap without loading screens, the sequels kind of expanded on that. Naughty Dog created a mythology, an ancient past that still has its influence, everything works logically and organically… to a point. Then things fall apart, we’ll notice the world exist just for the narrative. The Final Frontier plays with this, it introduces the Brink, the edge of the world. It has a potential, but seeing The Final Frontier, any new Jak & Daxter game would need writers as good as Naughty Dog’s, or else everything would be a mess.

2. Platformers are so PS2

jak2

Naughty Dog obviously wants to make mature games, so we can’t really hope that they will return to Jak & Daxter. But to those who are dismissing 3D platformers, look how insanely popular Ratchet & Clank is. Sure, it has weaker titles, but the Future trilogy was solid, and the humor still works in the weaker titles.

So why can’t we go back to Jak & Daxter? It’s a mature, well written trilogy with great twists and a beautifully realized world with nice lore.

3. Forgotten characters

jak3

I really miss these guys. Every time Daxter said something, I laughed hard. Jak was silent in the first game, and laughed when he first spoke in Jak II.

Great voice acting, memorable characters… and we are already forgetting them.  The last title in the series was released almost ten years ago. This is really unsettling and makes the possibility of a new game more difficult.

But, you see, Jak & Daxter is important. It showed us that a game can be insanely fun, weird and ambitious at the same time. Many ambitious games today forget that they are ultimately games. We might experience their beauty, their intense action, but a 3D platformer like Jak & Daxter has everything. It speaks to all generations of gamers. There should be much more games like this, especially now that the Vita has the capacities to continue the legacy of the PS2.

Or, they could always make a Daxter’s Angels spinoff for a quick cash-grab. Who knows?

Jak_3_girls