Friday, October 31, 2008

Fallout 3 - Game Design/Review

I suppose it's in a way too late to analyze the game, since all the Fallout sites picked it to pieces before it even launched. But now that I've played and beaten the finished product I think it's time to go around and critique everything.

First, combat: I found it very fun and honestly VATS never got really old or felt "easy mode." For the uninitiated VATS is basically Bullet-Time mixed with Turn-Based fighting. It pauses the game, you choose targets that you'd like to hit, complete with estimated chance to hit; the number of attacks is determined by Action Points which are determined by Agility and a few other modifications. Your character then carries out the actions, monsters then fight back in unison, and body parts often go flying. I think it's an extremely clever way to introduce turn-based fighting into a real-time game. There's just one issue: Your character loves to shoot walls. You may see their head, VATS may tell you there's an 85% chance to hit, but when it comes time to shoot, your character aims for the girder just to the left of that Super Mutant, so you miss every shot. This doesn't happen every fight, but it happens much more often than I'd like.

Real-time combat is of course very typical. Aiming feels like Call of Duty where your character raises the weapon slightly and your aim improves while your move speed suffers. Again, Call of Duty. In the name of ammo conservation VATS is the way to go and since my computer is very old, it was fairly difficult to effectively fight in Real-Time. Overall the combat works quite well if you discount my computer troubles.

Companions, of which I believe there are only three (and could be horribly wrong here) are quite useful. I managed to grab the "evil" one (You must have positive or negative Karma to acquire a follower, specific to each one) and he was a beast with his assault rifle. They can die, so your companions can't tank a Deathclaw, but their offensive potential is very good. However, one of the companions only even shows up at the very end and by that point in time you really don't need helpers anymore considering the status of the quests.

The RPG Element of the game (levelling, etc) is one of the reasons I really like RPGs. I really enjoy the whole gamut of trying to solve everything, being rewarded for your efforts, and then completely destroying your enemies because you already prepared your character for the fight.

Compared to the first two Fallouts, it comes a little short. They averaged out everything: Even if your Intelligence is 1 you still get enough skill points per level to get by, or if your Agility is 1 you can still use VATS decently. The attribute points do matter, but they have less drastic an effect than in the first two games. Also without Traits in the game (chosen at the moment of character creation, they would help one aspect of your character and hurt another) the game feels a little flat again. The Perks seem a little flat as well. Too many of them (90%) are simply "Adds 5 to this and this Skill." There are a few that deal with accuracy in VATS, but otherwise every single Perk can be described as "Adds X to X ability and Y to Y ability" (sometimes Z). Maybe I'm just being bitter, but I miss abilities like Awareness (The game tells you what equipment your opponents are wielding).

The World

The world is really well done. Towns and people are well done. You can tell the differences between the towns and they are filled with really interesting characters. The characters all interact well and are really fleshed out. I got to make fun of a girl named Princess because I convinced one of her "friends" to tell me some dirt on her. And these are almost entirely useless characters (one of them is involved in a quest). But that will bring me to my eventual point point, the quests: With all these rich developed locales and interesting people, why don't we have to interact with them more?

The actual Wasteland is definitely pretty big. The unfortunate thing here is you spend most of your time in about 1/4 of the map. Eventually a quest will send you somewhere far away and you get to go explore, but it's not like Fallout where it's like "Go to Vault 15... Hey! Shady Sands! Let's go mingle with people and save someone from Raiders!" In this game it's all about single locations wanting you to go to other single locations and you really don't find anything interesting along the way. Sure there are Radscorpions and Raiders; sometimes you'll find some ruined fort or something. For the true perfectionists who want to find every hidden weapon and so on, these forts are useful, sure, but they serve no purpose for "power-gamers" who want to go beat all the quests and kill lots of bad guys, or even regular people who just want to save dear old Dad.

If I can put it another way, the world is very full. There's stuff and people to encounter at every turn. The only problem is they're all so unimportant. It's like they finally got their world designed and got to designing the main quest and then they're like "Shit, this game launches in a month, what do we do?" People just feel useless. I found my way to the Brotherhood of Steel headquarters and even though there are dozens of people milling about in this huge complex, I needed to talk to maybe three people. One of them was optional. The world is full yet completely empty. So many people are useless. In Fallout 1/2 it was fine. With the view the way it was, you could just run past all the gamblers and guards and actually find the important people in the back of their little structure. In Fallout 3 you've got to try to navigate around using a map that isn't even helpful if the structure is more than one story, trying to find some guy with imperfect directions.

While I touched on this already, the quests are just not fulfilling. The main quest takes you a variety of places, introduces you to many people and makes you do a lot of cool stuff. There are lots of quests that stay open "Find me some scrap metal/sugar bombs/old books/slaves and I'll buy them off you." Those consist of about half the quests in the entire game. Literally each town has two quests, not counting when the main quest stops by to talk to someone. I think there was one interesting third-party quest line, the "Wilderness Survival Book." I mean I guess if the slaves are interesting people you really want to go save then and take them to their safe haven, but compared to a game like Morrowind or Oblivion where you had entire guilds that you did constant quests for, where you had Daedric shrines that you did interesting, unique quests for, there's just not much content here. I guess that's the best way to put it: There's just not much content. Solving a quest in Fallout 2 meant you interacted with some people, got the quest, traveled somewhere else, interacted with them, and in order to get what you wanted from them, they wanted you to go interact with some other people. Then you worked your way back and there you are. A typical Fallout 3 quest is "Go over there and get me a land mine."

But don't get me wrong; the game is fun. I played through the entire game between Oct 28-30 (with my saves magically disappearing after the first day, so I played it through in two days basically). I enjoyed the game a lot; there's room to replay the game since there are 2-3 ways to finish most quests and with interesting characters, it's worth seeing their reactions and how it plays out. But there's two things I don't like: Unlike the first two Fallouts there's no "And this is what happened to Shady Sands, this is what happened to Junktown, this is what happened to..." Instead it's a canned ending with one variable and three possible outcomes depending on how your character behaves at the end of the game. Secondly, unlike Morrowind/Oblivion, once the main quest ends the game ends, even when it shouldn't. So that helper you acquire right before the end of the game, well there's a big climactic fight happening. I mean sure you can put it off, but it's a big exciting fight filled with power armor and robots! Once you get started on that quest line, it's a little weird to just up and stop and do something else if the world's unfinished. I mean come on Bethesda, you made all these interesting characters, why not let me talk to them after I've saved the world?

I'd give it somewhere between an 8 and a 9.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

StarCraft II - Blizzcon 2008

I've finally had enough free time to write this article, so here goes:

The game is definitely not done. The build that Blizzard is currently playing is nothing like the build we had here (supposedly); Zerg are changing almost everything every time we play it. On to specifics.

What's New?


Lots of damage type changes, most of which I will detail later on.

New Vespene Gas mechanic. Two geysers per base, as we already know; these geysers only have ~300 on hand at a time. The geysers are deeper than that, but you're only allowed access to them for a minute or so. The geyser then enters a "rearming" phase where it turns red and your workers sit there unmoving. They do not give idle icons, so it's up to to player to micromanage them. Also, when the geyser comes back online it does not give a warning, so it's up to the player to put them back on. More on this in the audio segment.


Jackals (now called Hellions) are now Mineral-only; 100 for each.

Teching is totally diffrent now. +Attack and +Armor upgrades are now at the Tech Lab for the appropriate attached building. The Armory now contains all the pertinent Siege Mode, etc. upgrades; the Academy contains Stim Packs and so on. The Engineering Bay now has very unique upgrades: Additional Armor for Terran structures, and an upgrade that increases the range on Missile Turrets and the Planetary Fortress.

The Nomad was renamed and casts Spider Mines and stationary turrets. Mines are as good as ever from what I saw.


The Nullifier has this sweet new ability reminiscent of Chain Lightning. It deals 10 damage to 10 targets on the condition that they're the same unit as the first target. Think of it like a Zergling-only AoE spell. I suspsect 4-Nullifier drops may be fun to toy with. It costs 125 Energy which does take some time to accumulate, but it really makes a significant impact in the battle. It's available at a lower tech level than Psi Storm which is why I suspect it's so much weaker.

Dark Templar also merge into Archons. I think this was already known, but I made a point of reading the tooltip last weekend and Dark Templar make regular Archons. I guess you can make them less Gas-heavy now.

Psi Storm now deals 80 damage over 4 seconds. This is a good compromise to account for smart casting I think.

Observers do not require an Observatory, though this was mentioned by Blizzard before.

Warp Gates' (I believe) unit creation cooldown is now relative to the unit it makes, so they will always be more efficient than Gateways for every unit, not just a few.


Like I mentioned, Zerg are changing a lot every time. Both of the other races look to be getting close to finalized, with only a few tweaks; radical design changes are much less likely.

Banelings are Mineral-only units now; 50 minerals for two Zerglings, each can morph into a Baneling for 50 more minerals, so a total of 75. They are not cost-efficient at killing anything. More on this later.

Hydralisks are "normal" units now. In prior builds they were 100/100 Minerals/Gas. In this version they were either 25 or 50 Gas, making then a more accessable unit. In this build they behaved similar to regular Hydralisks, though apparently in Blizzard's most recent in-house build, they are a dedicated heavy anti-air unit.

Roaches are Mineral-only as well. They have bonus damage vs Light targets and I'll have more on these units later as well.

Nydus Network/Worms are different. Now you build a Nydus Network and load units into them, then you use an Overseer (upgraded Overlord) to spawn a Nydus Worm at a given location. Units then spill forth, etc.

The Defiler unit, whose name I really can't remember, is completely different from a regular defiler of course: It can move while burrowed, it "summons" Infested Marines, it has a 10-second Mind Control that I used to take my opponent's Mothership for about two minutes as I attacked his base, and it has a Broodling-esque spell that does damage over time, paralyzing the unit, causing it to explode when it dies.

Queens now cost Minerals and Gas and two food. I think they're no longer unique units, but I never made one.

Unit Stats
This will come in part two along with an audio portion, or simply will be contained in the audio portion, which I may transcribe around the same time. We shall see...

Audio portion is up now! Download it HERE!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Diablo 3 - Blizzcon

I came home from Blizzcon 2008 recently, and here's my synopsis of the game so far. Obviously the game is far from completion, but for those of you who want to hear about features and such, here goes:

Only 5 (3) characters were playable at Blizzcon. Each class has a male and female version, though to my knowledge the difference is only aesthetic. The Male Wizard was not ready yet, hence only five playable characters. I played through the Female Wizard and Female Witch Doctor, each in 15-minute allotted play-throughs.


First, the minimap. It was placed in the top right corner of the screen, maybe going 1/5 of the way across and down. Yellow dots denoted allies, purple ones denoting summons of allies. Enemies were not placed on screen, so that's for you to figure out. The minimap could be scrolled with the arrow keys, like in Diablo II. There did not seem to be a "center map" button, but again, this is hardly even an "alpha" version.

There was an NPC we talked to early on, telling us about some Skeleton King. You clicked the character (he had the equivalent of "!" over his head), and you could click "Tell me about the Skeleton King" (paraphrased). He would tell you his story, though I'm sure people only heard the first half-second before clicking away to go kill shit. Note that just clicking on the man would not give you the quest, you actually had to pretend to give a damn before your Quest Log updated.

Moving through "zones" works the same as Diablo II. There's a staircase, you click it, and now you're in Catacombs Level 2.

Your actual casting/usage interface is vastly different. Instead of the Belt there are, I believe, six numbers. 5 and 6 are dedicated to actual "potion" usage, which could be a Minor Healing Potion, or an Elixir of Vitality (increases Vitality by 10 for 5 minutes, or something along those lines). 1-4 are a little different. On the Wizard they didn't immediately do anything (and I didn't try messing with them), while on the Witch Doctor 1 was allotted to "Summon Undead Dog Thing" and 2 was "Cool Blue Nova That Gives You Mana." I think this will be the place where you stick skills that do not require targeting to cast (like summons and Novas).

Left- and right-click is where the targeted skills went. You had one slot for a left-click skill and two for right-click skills (tab or mousewheel would switch between the two). Changing the skill meant right-clicking the current skill icon, whereupon your targetable skills would pop up for your choosing.

Monsters behave basically the same as always. You click them, your character attacks, and they fight back. Interestingly there is a critical strike system. Whenever you land such a blow, a number pops up over their head (it's great when that number is "1") indicating the damage dealt. Some abilities have critical effects like "causes target to burn for 25% of the spell's damage for 4 seconds" or something. I'm sure most are just damage increases.


Items and inventory are of course different if you've been reading up on Blizzard's announcements. Gold and "runes" are picked up simply by colliding into them with your player model, so carpal tunnel will be staved off for a little while longer. These runes are small heals and such so that players can PvM without potion whoring or spamming Leech effects. Mana regenerated very quickly, though that may have been special to this build, while Health did not.

As for actual item mechanics, there were typical white items (also, "Superior" and "Inferior"), blue "magic" items (ex. +3 Health on a Club), and some yellow, presumably "rare," items. We all started with ~5 Scrolls of Identify (which stacked and did not require a Tome Of) and found plenty more along our journeys. All items took up one "slot" in the inventory. Like WoW, there were ~6 Bag slots where you would place a bag, and it would unlock another slot in your inventory. Our default inventory space was ~18 slots, but it looked like it was expandable to something like 40 with proper Bag usage. The items themselves had typical "Fast," "Slow," etc. attack speeds along with standard "6-10" damage ranges, but now we had the WoW-like "DPS" math done for you and displayed on the item.

Gems were also included in this version. I don't believe they behave any differently from the gems we're used to from Diablo II, except that I only found one-socket items. Also we had no Horadric Cube so I didn't get to see any Perfect Amethysts, sorry.

The new exciting cool part of the game are the other runes. Rune of Striking, etc. These are the runes that you socket into spells. That's right, now we can socket our skill trees with runes. These runes would have effects like "Increases damage of the skill by 5%" or "Increases critical chance/effect/etc by x%" or "Lowers spell cost by x%" and so on. Spells only had one socket, like with items, and I don't know if they were removable.

The Classes

Like I said I only played Wizard and Witchdoctor, but here goes.

Like Diablo II, classes have three skill trees. They do not seem to be organized in quite the same manner as Diablo II where Firebolt was required to unlock Fireball, etc. It seems (and I could be wrong here), that the system is much more like the WoW Talent tree, where five tier-1 spells require points before the next tier of skill becomes available. Like with Diablo II the tree seemed to max at 30-point (level 30) spells. I say it looks like Talent trees because when I learned the spell "Disintegrate" a little bar on the left of the skill tree filled down and changed from "5" to "6".

Each tier on the skill tree had up to three spells. Most of these spells were one-point abilities, while the Wizard had 10-point passive skills like "Increased damage resistance by 3% per level" and "Each level of this ability increases damage of Arcane spells by 10%."

Specific abilities that I remembered: Witchdoctor

"Plague Toads" (or something similar) sent out some frogs and once they were stepped on, they poisoned enemies in an AoE.
"Fire Bats" (or something) was basically Inferno from Diablo II: Short-ranged line AoE channelling DoT.
"Summon Undead Dog Thing" (or something) had a max of two, seemed to light themselves on fire after a while (which was really cool), and were generally useful. A fairly big drain on Mana reserves, but not terrible.
"Cool Blue Mana Nova Thing" was actually free to cast, dealt "1-2 Shadow Damage" and gave a little bit of Mana to you for each target hit. It was quite spammable and had great returns to mana.
"Fire Bomb" is similar to the explosive that Assassins threw in Diablo II, but actually decent at killing monsters.

Skills I remembered: Wizard

"Ice or Lightning (I forget) Shards" is a melee possibly AoE attack that dealt really good DPS for a level-1 skill. Low on mana cost, highly spammable, very damaging.
"Magic Missile" is a pretty typical projectile spell very reminiscent of Firebolt.
"Charged Bolt" (actually I have no idea what its name was) but it was Charged Bolt and was absolutely terrible. Ice Shards was much cooler and stronger.
"Disintegrate" At the behest of the Blizzard employee standing to my right, I got Disintegrate which "owned" according to him. Think of it like a very long-range Inferno (channeling line AoE DPS), with the added trait of 10% damage reduction for each target beyond the first, then second, etc.
"Some ability that didn't seem to cost Mana" (clearly not its proper name) When I had Ice Shards on left-click and then ran out of Mana, the Wizard seemed to cast some ability reminiscent of the Fire Bombs from the Assassin of Diablo II. I could have put regular attack on left-click, but this is way cooler.

Other Stuff

Armor is handled differently from Diablo II. Unlike the Attack Rating/Defense chance to hit modifiers, Armor is now, like WoW, a % decrease in damage taken.

Also, character statistics (Strength, etc) were automatically assigned.

Then there were some passives as well (as mentioned earlier), but there you have it, folks; Diablo III.

No audio article for this one, since I've basically spelled out everything. Leave comments <3~!

Friday, October 3, 2008


This is very much more "blog" than "article."

I drove up from San Diego "yesterday" (Thursday). I carpooled with Diggity who's casting StarCraft. The drive wasn't too bad, a few pockets of traffic, but no police tried to frisk me and I didn't crash or anything. Met up with the other WC3 caster, Psionic Reaver, and the other SC caster, Moletrap. We ate at Denny's, it was super exciting. We hung around for a while, and as ~9:40 rolled around we drove to LAX to pick up Peanut, who works for sc2gg and is starting up a casting firm.

After getting rooms settled, we headed over to room 446 or something, basically the party room. It contained (other than us) a bunch of SC players and a few people just there for the company. I ended up casting some beer bong, then people got tired of people missing constantly with 3 cups vs 1, so we headed out for more alcohol. Weisbeir owns.

I ended up playing, losing with 3/10 cups left; I'm pretty rusty. I retired back to the hotel rooms, my entourage slowly leaving to go do their own things. I also saw SonKiE before the night ended. Should be a good tournament. Much more as far as updates go tomorrow.

I'll be casting WC3 of course, CnC3, and maybe DotA as well. We shall see...