Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

World of Goo – the best cooperative gameplay on the Wii yet

January 15, 2009

After checking out World of Goo on my PC and reading a few glowing reviews (particularly Eurogamer’s Wii review), I decided to buy it for the Wii using the WiiWare download service.

World of Goo - getting around

Multiplayer has always been my favourite aspect of the Wii, and Wii Sports/Tennis and Bomberman my favourite games on the console. (Haven’t had the time to play much Mario Galaxy or Mario Kart yet.) Both Tennis and Bomberman are competetive games – though the best part of Tennis is playing doubles – while World of Goo is a purely cooperative game (well, unless you have rowdy friends, at least).

Very briefly explained, World of Goo is about helping small gooballs get to the exit of a level by building structures with them. It reminds me of a classic game called Bridge Builder (or Pontifex). However, WoG’s puzzles are more varied, the art style is incredibly charming, the music is great, the gameplay is very well suited to the Wii remote, and best of all, the cooperative gaming is fantastic fun and totally hassle-free. When someone else is playing, you just pick up a remote and play along.

This is AWESOME, and the way every multi-player experience should be. Mario Galaxy does it, but the second player has too small a part in the gameplay to really compare with WoG. Left 4 Dead, where your squad of four players run around killing zombies in the first-person perspective, is the only other game I can think of right now that implements this so well (the L4D implementation is a bit more cumbersome, but then again it is a network game and a much more complex one at that).

Puzzle has never been this fun. We had a one-hour three-player session yesterday, and we careened back and forth between thoughtful placement of goo balls and total mayhem as we all extended the structure in multiple directions at once. I’ll give two examples –

World of Goo - building the bridge

One level has you building a goo ball bridge from one side of a spiky valley to the escape pipe on the other side. To make sure the goo bridge doesn’t get pulled into the spikes by gravity as you extend it, you place balloons on it. Place too many too fast in the wrong place, and the bridge will veer upwards, popping the balloons on the overhead spikes. Eventually, we figured out that placing the balloons as low on the structure as possible simultaneously with placing new goo balls worked well. Also, we could move balloons along the bridge as we extended it, to make more careful adjustments to its height. The fact that it really helped to be more people – we could do different things at once – makes the multiplayer gameplay feel very meaningful.

Another level requires you to build a huge tower of goo balls to get to the exit pipe far above. It took us a few tries to find the right balance of tower width at the bottom and narrowing spire at the top. Two times our tower project wobbled into chaos as we started madly extending the structure at the top. Total failures, but very, very, fun!

Try this game. Its single player mode is nice on the PC, but the gameplay really shines in the Wii cooperative mode.

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Open letter to Sony: Why the limited multiplayer game modes in Singstar?

February 29, 2008

(Sent to Sony’s London Studio, makers of the Singstar games.)

Dear London Studio,

thanks for bringing us Singstar – a great party game. After having played Singstar for a long time I do, however, have a couple of issues with your game’s design that I believe you should address.

The 2-8 player Pass the Mic game mode is a good idea: Let people team up and play against each other. But why cap the number of players at 8? I can see no technical reason why you should have to place a limit on this number. It is very frustrating to have 9 or 10 people to visit – but only 8 can join, because of an arbitrary limit you set. Yes – having 20 players might make for boring games, because you would have to wait for a long time – but give the player that choice. How we set up our parties is our business.

My second issue is with the forced randomization of songs. It is no secret that not every song on every disc is a crowd pleaser. The random track selection should have been optional. I cannot see any reason why you should continue to force players to sing songs they don’t like. (Sorry – the 5+5 shuffle tokens do not solve the problem.)

Interestingly, this sort of unnecessarily restrictive game design is also present in the Buzz series of games – another social gaming giant. It is tempting to suggest that your common failure to provide customizable gameplay is a consequence of lacking competition – it would not require much code to add the functionality described above, yet the Pass the Mic mode has remained largely unchanged for the previous 10-12 Singstar titles.

I sincerely hope you will address my concerns in future editions of Singstar – and maybe with a patch for the PS3 version.

Best regards,

Singstar fan Are Wold

Oslo, Norway

Activision, I was planning to buy Guitar Hero III, but I’m not going to

January 25, 2008

Why? Because I cannot use the GH3 controller with Rock Band.

I am going to buy Rock Band in any event, but saw GH3 as a nice opportunity to get that second guitar and have some fun before Rock Band arrives here in a month or so. Your refusal to let Harmonix use your guitars with Rock Band means that I’ll stay away from GH3 and buy another Rock Band guitar instead.

Just wanted to let you know, Activision.

Open letter to Relentless Software regarding Buzz: The Mega Quiz and 5-8 player multiplayer support

June 29, 2007
Photo 86

(Sent to contact@relentless.co.uk.)
Dear Relentless Software / Buzz design team,

I recently purchased your latest Buzz game, “The Mega Quiz”. A few of the game design choices you have made baffle me and my friends, and I would very much like to hear your rationale for them.

1) The standard Buzz game, which can be played on easy, standard or hard difficulty, does not include all the new game modes. Our favorite, Countdown, is not included.

2) The standard Buzz game concludes with cake throwing, which tends to result in one player (the leader) being singled out for punishment and rapid removal from the round by the other players. Very unsatisfying – the extra 1000 – 2000 points the leader might have before that round typically counts for just one extra life. Compared to the final rounds in the previous games, where the skill of the player was the only factor, this is a big letdown.

3) These two objections to your game design would be less of an issue if we could create our own custom game with just the game modes we want. And we can, but just with 2-4 players – not with 5-8 players. Why?

This is the main issue with Buzz; the same problem affected “The Big Quiz” and frankly, it is difficult to understand why you still restrict some game modes to just four players. Considering that it means the extra controllers are less useful and that the potential of the game is not exploited, this annoys me quite a bit.

I would welcome an explaination for the 4-player limitation, and hope that this problem will be solved in the next iteration of Buzz!

Best regards,

Are Wold
(e-mail address)

Awesome stuff is happening!

April 4, 2007
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No, I’m not talking about my master’s thesis nearing completion – unfortunately, it is quite far from being awesome.

However, as if to compensate me for having to stay indoors and staring at OpenOffice when the weather outside is brilliant and sensible people are having their Easter holidays, the worlds of games, music and technology have dropped me three presents!

Games first! Some readers might be aware that I’m a big fan of SingStar, that game where people who tremendously enjoy singing in the shower can finally do so outside of the shower as well. Many times after playing (yeah, it is really playing and not singing it’s about, right?) I’ve said “wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have more voices going at the same time, or the entire band?”. The potential was obvious, and my prayers have been heard. Harmonix, the guys behind Guitar Hero (which I, sadly, have barely played) are creating a game called Rock Band where four players can take part. Vocals, guitar, bass and drums! YEAH! The potential awesomeness is completely off the charts. I can barely contain myself!

I’ll go in more detail some other time, since I have two more pieces of awesome news I want to share with you.

Music! In my previous blog post, I complained about DRM on music – in short, music files bought over the web that you can only play X times or only on this or that device. It seems someone was listening, because starting in May, EMI (the record company with Robbie Williams, Coldplay and lots of other big names on contract) are starting to sell music on the internet – without DRM. The price will be slightly higher than on the tracks already retailing on iTunes, but the quality will be higher as well. This is the beginning – I am confident the other record companies will have to follow EMI on this one. Yeah!

Finally, technology. Last year I heard some rumblings about wireless power, and how it was physically quite possible and probably would happen, you know, inside our lifespans, at least. Well, guess what. Philips are coming to market with a wireless LED light bulb this year, and next year we’ll see a wireless power receiver in phones, keyboards, mice etcetera. At this stage, the range of the “power waves” is about 1 metre, and the power transmitted is sufficient for, well, LEDs, mice, keyboard, cell phones, but not larger devices such as laptops. We’ll get there. This is awesome.

I love the feeling of progress! Collaborative gameplay never seen before, finally music in decent quality available legally without DRM – and wireless power. Bring on the future, I can’t wait! Yeah!

Supreme Commander versus Command and Conquer 3

March 3, 2007

Well, after having played a few missions of the Supreme Commander campaign and played through the C&C 3 demo, I feel entitled to have a few opinions on this matter.

In short, Supreme Commander represents something new – namely, its enormous scale. C&C3 is more of the same – more polished, yes, and with excellent production values, but still just more of the same.

After having played SupCom, I felt incredibly constrained when playing C&C3 – I kept trying to zoom out to view more of the battlefield.

The cool FMV sequences and more entertaining story of C&C 3 could make me want to play it a bit more, but gameplay-wise, we’re talking Red Alert, and that’s what is sending me straight back to SupCom.

If there is a god of real time strategy games: Please combine the engine of Supreme Commander, the production values of C&C3 and the story of Starcraft.. please!

Wii!

December 24, 2006

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Friday December 8. I had the pleasure of sending a friend to stand in line at the local electronics store. It is a small store, quite a distance away from the city centre in Oslo, and they didn’t expect to see a line that morning, but they did. Fortunately, my friend occupied the first spot, and managed to secure one of the three Wiis available when the store opened at nine.

I remember being excited when talk of the Nintendo “Revolution” first arrived. When the motion-sensing controller was revealed, it seemed Nintendo might actually be able to deliver on their promise – a revolution in the way games were played. After a while, even the new name – Wii – seemed a sensible choice. But still a doubt lingered, that the new control scheme would prove just a gimmick – fun the first ten times, then relegated to the dustbin.

After playing quite a lot of Wii Sports over the last couple of weeks, I’m certain – this is definitely not a gimmick. Playing tennis on the Wii feels so different compared to how playing other tennis games feel. You get a whole different level of engagement with the game when you actually do the movements instead of pressing the buttons. That’s one side of it. I think that the sheer physical effort involved makes gameplay more intensive; you get worked up, exhilerated, excited. And that is a big part of gaming!

In addition to the fun I’ve had with boxing, tennis, bowling, baseball (which is tricky!) and golf, I’ve played through the minigames in Wii Play. They serve as a useful demonstration of what kind of games are possible. I am particularly fond of the Tanks game, where you drive a tank around using the joystick on the “nunchuck” attachment to the Wii remote and fire by aiming the Wii remote on the screen and pressing the buttons. This is a gameplay mechanic I hope to see replicated and enhanced in a full, stand-alone title. It doesn’t matter if it’s low budget – Tanks is just pure fun, and I would like more of it.

Gameplay, that’s what it’s about, and the Wii has tons of gameplay!

In addition to all the new possibilities, you can buy old games off the Wii Shop and download them straight to your Wii. I’ve downloaded Sonic the Hedgehog (originally for the Sega Mega Drive), Bomberman 93 (TurboGrafx 16) and Gunstar Heroes (also Mega Drive). These are all fun in their own ways, but I particularly enjoy playing Bomberman in multiplayer – a great party game – and checking out classics I’ve never tried, like Gunstar Heroes.

Bottom line? The Wii is a great console. I am really, really happy with mine (it is in my carry-on luggage right now, coming home for Christmas with me), and considering the fun I’m having with a first-gen title like Wii Sports, I can’t wait to see the fully fledged tennis, boxing and golf games that are en route!

The shortest Nintendo DS Lite / Brain Training review ever

July 9, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a DS Lite with the games Brain Training and WarioWare. The only game I´ve really played is Brain Training, and here´s the DS Lite / Brain Training verdict:

It rocks.

The DS Lite has gorgeous looks and bright screens. The handwriting recognition works quite well in Brain Training, which is a fun game – with a few exceptions. To those who know nothing about the game, it is a kind of maths / logic training game. Among the exercises you can run through are simple maths problems, sudoku puzzles, keep track of how many people are in the house as some leave and some enter continously and speak the colour of the word currently displayed (typically, the word “black” is written in yellow font).

The biggest problem with this game is that it is too talky – Dr. Kawashima, who is behind the brain training theory used in the game, insists on talking and talking and talking and talking, and you have to tap your way through it, talking bubble by talking bubble. It doesn´t keep me from playing, though. Also, I would have liked to have support for more than 4 profiles (they are used for tracking your progress in the game).

Overall, I really recommend Brain Training if you, well, enjoy training your brain!

I´ll make sure I post some pictures of the DS Lite alongside my black MacBook soon… :)

More SingStar Rocks! problems

April 23, 2006

A few days ago, I posted about my faulty SingStar Rocks PS2 disc. I thought I’d post an update, as I have been to my local EBGames and bought a new copy – which didn’t work. It had the same problems with the music video freezing, at exactly the same places in the songs. I went back and swapped it, and the disc has the exact same problems.

Meaning: I’ve now tried three different discs and they all have the same problems. I’m wondering whether this is just the PS2 we have here, or if it’s a manufacturing defect. Hopefully Google will have indexed my original post soon, so that people searching for information about this issue will find my blog.

Congratulations, Funcom!

April 20, 2006

You guys pulled it off! GameSpot gives Dreamfall: The Longest Journey 8.1/10 (“great”), while GameSpy rates it 5/5 and an Editor’s Choice. Wow.

So, since when did I become an adventure gaming fan?

Well – this is more about being a little bit patriotic and appreciating it when game designers manage to live up to huge expectiations. Funcom is the only major Norwegian game studio, and The Longest Journey (2000) was widely hailed the best adventure game in years. It’s simply impressive that they managed to get this kind of critical acclaim for the sequel. The kudos they get for the storytelling really want to make me try out this game!

I’ll quote Gamespot:

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is, first and foremost, a great work of science fiction. Such a complex plot, endearing characters, and imaginative settings and situations are highly uncommon to gaming, or any medium for that matter.

Yeah!