Metal Gear Solid HD Collection

With a slight bit of trepidation, I bought the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection…for the Xbox 360.

(Oh, by the way, we bought a used Xbox 360 so I’ve got that back now. Still don’t have a PS3 and I have no idea when I’ll get one.)

Now, my trepidation came from the fact that I thought the Xbox 360 version might have been hamstrung in some way due to the fact that these games are native to the PS3. It wouldn’t be the first time a cross-platform port suffered (I’m looking straight at you, Grandia II for the PS2).

I could not be more wrong. This is by far the best series of HD ports I have ever seen. The frame rate is perfectly consistent, the higher-poly models work well and most of the textures have been upgraded. The goal of the port team (Bluepoint Games) was obviously to create as faithful a port as possible. They even got Paul Eiding (who plays Colonel Campbell) back into the studio to record lines like “To access the CODEC, press the Back button” since the Xbox doesn’t have a Select button. That’s how dedicated they were to making this as smooth a transition as possible.

The only quibble comes from the fact that the control scheme changed significantly for Metal Gear Solid 3 due to the close-quarters-combat system. The CQC system relied upon “soft” and “hard” button presses on the PS3 face buttons; for instance, after grabbing someone you could softly press the attack button to interrogate them or press it all the way down to kill them. (I killed a lot of people accidentally before I figured this out.) The Xbox 360 buttons are simple switches, so a change was required – now you use the left stick button to do the same thing. Hold it down, you interrogate, tap it a few times and you kill. This change did not bug me at all.

On the other hand, there’s the problem of accidental shots. In the PS3 version of Metal Gear Solid 3, you can go into first-person mode to aim, then press the fire button to bring up your weapon. When you release the fire button, you’ll fire. But what if you decide you don’t want to fire? On the PS3, you can slowly release the button and Snake will put the gun down without firing. But again, there is no “slowly” pressing a 360 button. This was solved by using the top buttons – hold RB to go into first-person, then hold LB to bring your gun up. Then press the weapon button. Don’t want to fire? Let go of LB and you’ll lower the weapon.

Frankly I don’t like this system. It involves both hands and isn’t as intuitive as “press to aim, release to fire”. So I’ve been compensating by being very careful with my shots, which has actually made me a better player. But the workaround is there if necessary.

As for the games themselves, they are what they have always been. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a weak game, in my opinion, but I’m currently in the process of giving it another chance, like I did with Final Fantasy VIII. It’ll be interesting to see, after having played the rest of the series, if I can understand the game any better. I’ve already found myself connecting some dots I didn’t (or couldn’t) before. The game is based off the Substance version of Metal Gear Solid 2, so it includes the Snake Tales extra missions and VR training. Unfortunately, the Snake skateboarding minigame was removed, but since that was actually a completely different game using a completely different engine, I’m not surprised, and it’s not a great loss.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is still a gem of a game; less frustrating to play than its predecessor due to the ability to move the camera around while in overhead view. The storyline is great and starts the whole Metal Gear saga off with a bang. It includes one of the strongest female characters ever seen in video gaming: The Boss. I would have paid full price just for this game. And because this port is based off Subsistence, it includes the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 games as well. Unfortunately, the Snake vs Monkey minigame is gone, as is the Secret Theater. Also, the playable nightmare Snake has if you save just after he is tortured is gone, which is a shame. But, again, that was actually an alpha of a completely different game so I can see why Bluepoint might not have been able to get the rights or integrate it properly into the rest of the port.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is new to me; I’d played the demo on my PSP but found the controls clunky. When you begin the game here, you’re actually presented with three control schemes: one based on MGS4 (which I picked), one based on Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, and one based Monster Hunter, of all things. So no matter how you want to play the game, you’re covered.

The controls are tight and add even more to the CQC system than was there before. You can now chain CQC moves against multiple enemies and throw enemies into each other, stunning both. If you’ve ever seen that cutscene in Metal Gear Solid 3 where Snake uses CQC to defeat six soldiers at once, rest assured that you can now pull stuff like that in gameplay. Edit: I didn’t know this when I first wrote this article, but there is actually an achievement/trophy for chaining six CQC takedowns in a row, which is freakin’ awesome.

The plot has been fascinating so far, because at this point Snake (now Big Boss) has abandoned all ideals of fighting for a country and now fights only for what he himself believes in. He commands a mercenary group called Militaires Sans Frontières (Soldiers Without Borders). He gets sucked into a conflict in Costa Rica that turns out to be a proxy war between the CIA and the KGB, and since I’m not done with the game yet I don’t know which side he’ll pick.

It’s clear, though, that this game is more about the formation of Outer Heaven, the independent military base created by Big Boss. And this isn’t just in the story. You build Outer Heaven yourself, directing the people under your command to focus on one aspect of the base or another – do you reduce research in order to make sure wounded soldiers get better faster? Which is more important, food or intel gathering? (That’s actually a valid question, since plentiful food means soldiers operate more efficiently.) This aspect of the game is interesting enough that my daughter Megan asked me, “Can I get a game with just this in it and without the sneaking around part?”

To save space on the original PSP disc, cutscenes were done using static images with some animation laid over them. They are artfully produced and professionally voiced – and I didn’t know Tara Strong and Grey Delisle could do Central American accents. The fact that they are not done in-engine does not detract from the game at all.

Quibbles? Well, the environments are small due to the limitations of the original PSP game. But they do get more interesting as the game progresses. The game tries to fit a whole bunch of information on the screen at once by writing text sideways; this combined with the blocky font used made me occasionally have to peer at the screen to figure out what it was saying.

Other than that, I’m having an absolute blast with this game – the addition of the new base building mechanic is well done. You can improve your base while on a mission (by, er, kidnapping talented enemy soldiers and getting them to work for you). And what you do on base affects your missions – upgrading your weapons and equipment will make missions easier. Thus, you can trade time for skill and I seem to recall saying in the past that this is a great mechanic to include in games. And as far as I know, nothing from the original PSP game was left out of this version.

Overall, for $40 you get five of the eight games that currently make up the Metal Gear canon (with Metal Gear Solid, Portable Ops and MGS4 being the missing games). And the ports are excellently done. If you played Metal Gear on the PS2 and miss it or if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend this game.

Eggs

I know there hasn’t been a lot of content on this blog in…well, months. And I apologize. And I’m thinking that now that things are settling down a bit the blog is going to pick up.

I think I mentioned this earlier, but I read a book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength and it mentioned things that can sap your willpower.

(Which is really, really bad news for dieters because one of the things that really saps your willpower is low blood sugar.)

It put me in mind of the magic system for Dragon Age: Origins, which had its problems but did have one cool feature – instead of a mage having to pay every few turns for a “sustained” effect like fire resistance, you simply activate the ability and the mage’s mana cap is permanently reduced to pay for the effect. The effect then stays on indefinitely, or until you need that mana back to do something else with it.

And without getting into too many details, I’ve had a lot of mana drainers. Some of them just happen involuntarily and some are things I’ve chosen. But as you can imagine, a lot of those mana drainers have released due to my financial and employment situation improving.

And thus, I’m feeling like I can start blogging again.

But what about? I feel like I’m starting over. What shall I blog about?

When Alton Brown (still one of my favorite people) was asked what he does when he gets tired of cooking, he said (I’m paraphrasing here), “I cook eggs. Eggs are magic. They’re delicious in and of themselves, but they make so many other aspects of cooking possible. The proteins can be used to make custard and meringue. The yolks can be used to add richness to sauces. Brushing beaten egg onto baked goods helps them brown better. The lecithin in eggs is what makes mayonnaise possible. Eggs are magic, and I never get tired of cooking with them.”

So what are my eggs?

Classic games, or games in a classic style. Stripped down, fun elements. Piecing together a storyline myself. Coherent experiences.

Oddly enough, I’m not seeing anything on the horizon that really is going to scratch those itches, which is one of the reasons I talk more about older games.

But even so, you can expect more frequent posting in the future.

Name That Game 93: Dig for Exotics!

America has a habit of creating new media and then getting completely surpassed in the use of that media by other countries.

Rock & Roll was invented in the US; the greatest Rock & Roll band of all time? The Beatles, a bunch of Brits. Oh, you don’t like the Beatles? Who would be your number one? The Rolling Stones? Black Sabbath? Led Zeppelin? Queen? The Police? Cream?

America invented animation but ghettoized it into nothing but kiddie fare; other countries like Japan took the medium and did incredible things with it.

America invented video games, and while America has produced many fine video games, other countries like have taken this ball and run like crazy with it.

And this is the subject of today’s Name That Game!

None of the following ten games were conceived of or developed in the United States. Can you name the games, and even better, their countries of origin?

1. This first-person shooter, a welcome throwback to the brainless fun of game like Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM, had you fighting hordes of enemies in exotic locals. The game is completely crazy – early in the game you fight enemies with bombs for hands.

2. This seminal third-person action-adventure game combined excellent level design and fiendish puzzles with some slightly-frustrating combat. It also had one of the first major female protagonists.

3. This action-adventure game resurrected a long-moribund series by updating it with 3D graphics and gameplay and adding an excellent feature that allowed you to manipulate time. This acted as both a wow-factor and an excellent anti-frustration feature.

4. This incredibly sprawling RPG was based on a series of successful books. It had an interesting combo-based combat system, systems to both craft potions and upgrade your weapons, tons of quests and sidequests to complete, and the ability to bang a whole bunch of different women.

5. This slightly more realistic take on the third-person stealth-action genre spawned a host of sequels. It combined excellent gameplay with an interesting plot and excellent voice acting. And silent takedowns. God, I love silent takedowns.

6. This action-adventure game combined Zelda-style gameplay and a few stealth sequences with a surprisingly deep plot despite its cartoony presentation.

7. This strategy-sim game series starts you with a single ship and tasks you with finding an unoccupied island rich in resources and building a thriving colony. As the game progresses you’ll have to manage multiple colonies on multiple islands, using shipping lanes to ferry needed goods from one island to the next to keep all colonies successful.

8. This first-person shooter series is famous for having incredible physics and graphics that will make even the best computers melt trying to keep up. The actual gameplay quality has also improved as the series progressed.

9. This is the most popular puzzle game in the world. Bar none.

10. This series of cerebral, historical games combines turn-based action on a larger map with real-time strategy in individual battles. It’s also notable for being pretty darn hard, thus it has a fairly rabid fanbase.

Good luck! If you win, I’ll name the next country I found after you!

Name That Game 92 – Signature Style

Just like any other sort of artist, a lot of game developers have wells that they like to revisit. Sometimes it becomes possible to know who (or what studio) made a game just by watching some of the gameplay. (Though this can get difficult if a lot of other developers start biting their style.)

But sometimes a developer simply transcends and a mechanic, theme or combination becomes a signature of a particular developer.

Below I list ten styles for you to match with their creators. How many can you name?

1. This company made a game with a signature over-the-top art style featuring all-out war between elves, dwarves, men, and orcs. They then moved on to make a very similar game set in the far future between hulking marines in power armor, inscrutable glowing aliens, and nearly-unstoppable assimiliating alien bugs. They then went on to write an MMO based on the first game series.

2. This developer loves little semi-autonomous people and puts them in practically every game he makes – and he’s been making games for many decades. While he usually designs his games around the concept, he isn’t above shoehorning them into games where they don’t strictly belong.

3. This developer, choosing to work in the oeuvre of the text adventure, created some of the most fun, wacky and memorable game situations that had been seen at the time. His games also tended to be less difficult than other text adventures (even those created by the same company), allowing players to experience more of his games. EDIT: It has been impressed upon me that there is more than one designer who fits this description; I will accept either as an appropriate answer.

4. This developer took a board wargame, programmed it into a computer, then sold it as his own. (Seriously, the designers of the original boardgame should have sued the pants off him.) Since the game dealt with science fiction man-to-man combat and was fairly technical, computerizing the game made it a lot easier to play. He has since spent his entire career updating and remaking that first game in various genres.

5. This developer got his start making games for the Commodore VIC-20 when all of his friends were working on the ZX Spectrum. He pounded out lots of little fast-action games, some of which were krep but at least one of which is considered a classic. His trademarks are synesthesia and…uh, yaks.

6. This developer got his start by taking top-down, tile-based roleplaying games like Rogue, setting them outside and using tiled graphics to represent terrain, monsters and characters instead of numbers and letters. As his skill grew, he began to focus on the world simulation of the games he was making. Each one grew more and more detailed, with NPCs that had branching dialog trees, much more detailed (though still top-down and tiled) graphics and game worlds, and, ultimately, more thought-provoking plots than competing games.

7. This developer has worked on graphic adventures, action games, adventure games and real-time strategy games. His schtick is to make whatever game he’s working on completely bizarre and usually hilarious.

8. This developer pioneered both single-screen and online multiplayer games years – perhaps decades – before their time. Also famous for being one of the first transgendered game designers in history.

9. This developer wrote the first smash hit for the ZX Spectrum, then followed it up with an even bigger hit. He then disappeared, not only from the gaming scene but from society in general. It took years to find him, and it turned out that after blowing all his money he had just wandered around Europe living in communes, planting flowers, and working at fish canning plants.

10. This company had the goal of making movie-style experiences on computers and consoles – a difficult task given how primitive the machines were at the time. Their goal required them to become pioneers of game graphics and their games usually looked better than any of their contemporaries. Gameplay usually consisted of movie-style scenes with some degree of interactivity interspersed within a larger strategy or resrouce management game.