Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bayonetta 2 Demo for WiiU, part 2 - Touch(y) Controls

In my previous post I briefly mentioned that the Bayonetta 2 demo for WiiU offers an option for touch controls that I had not tried. I have tried them, and I'm not convinced that they're useful, but I think I might understand why they were available.

The most important buttons for Bayonetta are dodge, jump, punch, and kick. In the default control configuration, all of these are mapped to right hand buttons that are easy to get to - ZR, B, X, and A. If you're unfamiliar with the layout, have a look. Movement is handled with the left analog stick, which is fairly standard.

With the touch controls, Bayonetta turns to face the location of where you tap on the screen. I think that if you tap and hold, Bayonetta is supposed to run to that location but there are very few opportunities to test this in the demo as the battle is constantly in motion. If you tap on an enemy, you move towards them and attack them. However, I have no idea (and the demo of the game does not say) how it decides whether any given attack is a kick or a punch. Jumping is done by double tapping, which I did not find difficult to do with either hand. Dodging is done with a swipe, which was easy enough. No individual motion was too difficult to perform, but fluidly doing exactly what I intended seemed difficult. Stylish action games usually demand precision, although Bayonetta is forgiving in this way by offering a wider range of difficulties than most of the other games in this style.

Since the release of this game had been in question until Nintendo became involved, I wonder if Platinum had been considering a way to put Bayonetta on a tablet or a phone platform as a way to recoup having developed a significant chunk of the game already. Certainly another possibility is that the touch controls were added after Nintendo's involvement at Nintendo's request. Bayonetta 2 was initially being developed for SEGA by Platinum, but when SEGA felt they had other priorities and back-burnered Bayonetta 2 Platinum had to talk to other producers and the console companies because they wanted to see if they could still manage to release a game after all the work they had already put into it. Thankfully, Nintendo stepped in to help, but that posed a different problem. Since the original Bayonetta was not on a Nintendo platform, there were many people resistant to the idea of buying a second game without having played the first one. Platinum has fixed this by including a beautiful port of the original Bayonetta along with the purchase of Bayonetta 2, making it a fantastic value. On top of this, Platinum and Nintendo have created extra costumes for Bayonetta to wear in the style of Samus from the Metroid series, Princess Peach from the Mario series, and Link from the Legend of Zelda series. (I thought I also saw something about Star Fox as well but I can't be sure  Not only are there Nintendo-themed costumes available in both the original Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2, but each costume includes a unique weapon to add to the already varied gameplay.

Having spent enough time playing the first Bayonetta on a PlayStation 3 controller, I don't think I'll be taking the step backwards to touch controls. Perhaps some people new to the game will be able to start purely with the touch controls and do something amazing with them. It can't be any crazier than trying to play Soul Calibur with a SEGA fishing controller...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Things for WiiU : Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2

Maybe it's because I've been listening to too many Nerdist podcasts with Chris Hardwick, or maybe it's the drummer in my band who works on advertising who did this to me, but I have this concept lodged in my head that I can't get out.

If you're going to pitch a new game idea/movie idea/story idea to someone else, it has to be conveyed in terms of two things that the person you're pitching to is already familiar with.

For example, if  Sam Raimi were pitching Army of Darkness to someone trying to get funding after he just did Evil Dead 2, he could say that it's Evil Dead 2 meets A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Sometimes you can use more basic references, like you could say that Blade Runner is a murder mystery but with robots. (Yes I know they're called replicants, but you shouldn't use a word you're just going to have to turn around and explain in a pitch.) So if I were to explain the new WiiU game Hyrule Warriors to you, it could be framed in the same way - it's The Legend of Zelda meets Dynasty Warriors.

Of course, one of the problems with that is that not everybody has played Dynasty Warriors, and compared to the long-running success of the Legend of Zelda games, it's practically a niche title. The other problem with that is that the Dynasty Warriors games have all been on Playstation 2 and 3 (and now 4). The only games that have come out for a Nintendo system that are even close to the gameplay of Dynasty Warriors are Mystic Heroes which came out for Gamecube in 2002 and Sengoku Basara which came out for Wii in 2010 (which was played in our house almost continuously for a stretch of  a year or more).

The word used to denote this style of game is Musou, because Koei/Tecmo made most of these games and so those games are referred to as Musou games or Warriors games. Unless you work for CAPCOM, it's probably acceptable to say that "Sengoku Basara is a Musou-style game series made by CAPCOM".  These games have a variety of characters to choose from, and a number of medium-size playfields broken into smaller areas. The characters typically have swords or pikes or other melee weapons, but some characters also have more fantastic attacks that may seem like guns or magic or something else that isn't totally realistic. Most of these games heavily rely on fantasy elements to keep the gameplay moving along. The characters all seem to have attacks that are widely varied from character to character so each character may require a different approach. They are designed to simulate a battle scenario that includes a number of base camps for your character to conquer. As you play through a level, the game will put messages on-screen to tell you what the victory conditions are, and sometimes they change during the course of a battle. Your character usually has to fight thousands of enemies throughout the course of a battle, most of which are rather minor, some base commanders that are a little more substantial, and some of which are powerful "boss" characters that have strength more on par with yours.

With Hyrule Warriors, there are both existing characters to choose from and some new characters created specifically for the game. Our hero Link, the princess Zelda and her alter ego Sheik, the fierce warrior Impa, the evil Ganondorf, Princess Ruta of the Zora Kingdom, and the Goron leader Darunia, are all available as playable characters from the Zelda series. Even the newer sidekicks like Midna and Fi are playable. Most strangely, Agitha is a playable character, but here insect-based attacks are quite the force to be reckoned with. Rounding out the first wave of playable Zelda universe characters are the bad guys Girahim from Skyward Sword and Zant from Twilight Princess. Lana is a cutesy magic-user made specifically for the game who can use a big spell book or a staff from the Deku tree.  Her rival the evil sorceress Cia will be a playable character if you get some of the DLC for this game.

Here's a rather long clip from the Treehouse that shows a lot of footage from the game.



My older son has completed the main story already and has most of the characters unlocked that are currently available. He's still having a difficult time working his way through the Adventure Mode, since some of the specific missions require beating the boss enemies more quickly than we are used to. So, that means Zant and Girahim are still waiting to be unlocked. (I'm still working on the story mode but I wonder why I don't get to play it as often...) The game has done a fantastic job of recreating several areas directly from Skyward Sword, Twilight Princess, and the Ocarina of Time. Some of the other areas are a little less recognizable to me, but maybe I should have played more Majora's Mask. It plays exactly as I would expect, and the game seems very responsive even when there are scores of enemies on the screen. The only complaint I could possibly have on the visuals is that when the game is played 2-player, one person plays on the GamePad screen and the second player plays on the TV, and the person that plays on the GamePad screen gets a little less visual fidelity than normal. Some of the effect passes are skipped over when rendering the small screen. It does seem like genius to not have the splitscreen, since my biggest problem with two-player Sengoku Basara was that the split screen made it difficult to see what you were supposed to be doing a lot of the time.

Some hardcore Zelda fans are bound to be disappointed by this game because it's not a real Zelda game to them, but if you're a fan of beat-em ups or the Warriors games and also like the Zelda characters, there is so much fan service and depth to the game that you could play the game for weeks and still have characters to level up, Golden Skulltulas to find, and challenges to master. If that's not quite enough, for another $20 you can get all of the DLC that is going to be put out over the next several months.

In other news, Platinum Games' stylish action title Bayonetta 2 is finally coming out for WiiU this month. Before the WiiU was even released, Platinum had announced that Bayonetta 2 was going to be a WiiU exclusive because of Nintento's help in making the game happen. The first Bayonetta game told the story of a woman that wakes up from a lake not knowing exactly who she is but having to figure out why she is a witch, why there are creepy monsters with halos trying to kill her, why there is a doofus reporter and a small girl chasing after her, and how to dance around firing guns on her feet and using her hair as a weapon. The pitch for Bayonetta 2 should be "Everything that you already did in Bayonetta 1, but bigger!" For WiiU owners that didn't play the original Bayonetta, a port of the first game is included on a separate disc, with the addition of Samus, Princess Peach, and Link costumes with unique weapons for Bayonetta to unlock and use.

There is a demo out for Bayonetta 2, which we have played already. You get a brief tutorial on the controls, which are identical to the first game with the exception of one button. In the demo, you start out fighting three large centaur-like enemies at a time while on the back of a fighter jet flying through skyscrapers while another larger enemy flies around. At some point, you start attacking the larger enemy from the plane, and then jump down on the back of a moving train to continue the battle. The third part involves battling a large monster at the spire of a tall building, King-Kong style. Here's a look from GamersPrey HD:

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I did pretty horrible at the game, I think a got a third or fourth-tier ranking (either Silver or Stone) but I was so busy looking at everything that I didn't care about my bad score. This looks pretty great, has more going on visually than the original did, runs much more smoothly, and I'm really looking forward to playing this in a week or two assuming everybody else isn't still hogging the machine. For those of you that played this on PS3 and you're not sure how you feel about the GamePad controller for an action game, the solution would be dropping another $50 on the WiiU Pro Controller. Now there is another control option that involved the touchscreen, but I didn't check to see what that was yet. If it turns out to be significant, I will post about it separately.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Well, it's about gosh darn time.

No, I'm not talking about pumpkin doughnuts, although we did have some.

No, I'm not talking about the new Super Smash Bros. (That's mostly because I don't really care about the 3DS version of it and I'm perfectly happy to wait until the WiiU version is out.)

I'm talking about the fact that I actually got a professional demolisher to take apart one of the new Hasbro Rubik's Cubes so I can see what it looks like inside. My wife and I were waiting at one of my kid's appointments, and she figured out that she would be able to remove one of the egde pieces using her housekey. I waited a couple more days to post this, partly because I didn't have the camera batteries charged, and partly because I wanted to be sure that I could reassemble the cube again after I took the photos but before I posted this. If it was impossible to reassemble, I wanted to be able to warn people not to do this.

It's safe to say that removing a piece is non-trivial. Even with a broken-in version of this cube, it seems to be designed in such a way that removal is rather difficult. However, for sake of comparison, let's look at the original cube pieces. This is a corner piece and an edge piece from one of my older Rubik's cubes:


And here's the interior:


Here's a corner and an edge piece from the very smooth-turning DaYan:


Here's the DaYan interior:


And now, possibly for the first time outside the Rubik's forums, here's the new Hasbro/Funskool corner and edge piece:


And the Hasbro/Funskool interior:


Of particular note is the fact that there is a notch in only one side of the center flange on each of the six center pieces. Note that the flange you can see on the white center above has the notch, the flange on the red center does not have the notch. (Well, it has a notch, but it's not positioned so that you can see it at the moment.) When I finally popped the edge piece back in, I was so relieved that I can't remember if I was able to take advantage of the position of the notches or not. The edge pieces have two different sets of tabs to hold them in to the other pieces and it makes it very hard to remove and equally difficult to put in. Even with an edge piece out, the adjacent corner pieces don't really want to come out without substantial assistance.

Once I got it all back together, it still sounds like that I have a loose piece of something inside, but I never discovered anything when I had it all apart. There is some irregular wear on a couple of pieces, but it was inside a groove that I'm unlikely to be able to sand precisely without risking breaking it.

So, overall, here's my review of the new Hasbro/Funskool Rubik's cube.

Pros:

  • Widely available in Wal-Marts everywhere for $10, no need to wait for mail order
  • Plastic tiles feel nice and are completely flush with the rest of the cube
  • If you get a good one it turns much better than the previous model did right out of the box
  • Nearly impossible to tamper with
Cons:
  • Much louder than nearly every other cube available
  • Even the best ones don't turn as well as a DaYan or a Ghost Hand
  • Hard to pop a piece out even with aggressive turning
  • If you get a bad one it's difficult to fix because it's...
  • Nearly impossible to tamper with
If you want a cube just to mess around with, and you're not worried about speedsolving, and you're not concerned about potentially having to buy it twice just to have one that doesn't give you tendonitis, then this is just fine. Otherwise I would have to suggest a Ghost Hand ($6 plus shipping), a DaYan ($8-$15 plus shipping) or a V-Cube ($20 but maybe not shipping. Barnes & Noble seems to be selling V-Cubes at some of their locations.)

Next Post: Hyrule Warriors and the Bayonetta 2 Demo for WiiU!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cubing in Public, Hasbro Edition

One of the things that I did this week was take my younger child to a play group. The least I could do as a parent would be to make sure that he's better socialized than I am. Since I don't know any of the other parents that well I wasn't quite ready to socialize during the waiting around part. (See - this is why I need to do this.) I'm not worried about waiting around while the kids play, that's what I have my Rubik's cube with me for. However, it was rather quiet there, and like any lobby or waiting room it can be rather echoey.

The cube I brought the first time was one of my two new model Hasbro Official Rubik's cubes with the plastic tiles and the new mechanism that I talked about here. After doing a couple of solves, I realized that it seemed rather loud. It would seem that I am the only person that would excuse himself from a semi-social situation to go get a quieter cube. I had a couple of DaYans in the car and opted for my fancy (well, to me it's fancy) stickerless cube. While I am always happy to demonstrate my meager cube prowess, it didn't seem like I should be making a big racket to attract attention on purpose. It did seem odd to me on later reflection that I had so many cubes in the car.

In other news, I haven't seen an email back to find out why Gamora isn't on the official Guardians of the Galaxy coffee mug. I've been thinking about calling them, but I don't know how my employer might feel about a random call to Apopka on my lunch break. I suspect that the answer is going to be something like "That's the artwork that got approved by the Marvel people" without any regard for the exclusion of one of the members.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Comic Books and Coffee Mugs Prove I Don't Understand Feminism or Marketing.

I want to be able to say that I'm not sexist. I'd like to think so. Every once in a while, something will set me off and I tailspin into some remarkable rabbit hole of self-loathing that makes me think that either I'm some sort of naive idiot or some evil monster.

This time it was a coffee cup.

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy a few weekends ago, and I really liked it. That's not really noteworthy, since it would seem that lots of people went out to see a movie that most people would have laughed at the premise of ten years ago. In fact, it's so many people that it's the number grossing summer film in the United States. In an effort to be additionally supportive, and to give me a frequent reminder of the film, I purchased a coffee mug that has four of the characters from the film on it.

So now I hear Peter Falk's voice in the back of my head going "Sorry to bother you, but there's one thing that I don't understand there. Aren't there five members of the team in Guardians of the Galaxy?" (For those of you too young to get the Columbo reference, just have a look on youtube.)

Who's on the coffee mug? Well, Star Lord has to be on the mug. It's practically his movie from start to finish. The bounty is on him, it's his spaceship, and it's his mixtape. Rocket and Groot are on the mug because they carry a lot of the jokes in the film. Drax is on the mug because he's awesome and nothing goes over his head. (Side note: Drax is so awesome that they also have a mug that's just him. I presume that the marketing department thinks that coffee drinkers identify with Drax.) I ask my wife while we're in the store - "Why isn't Gamora on the coffee mug?" - to which she wittily replies, "Gamora doesn't need coffee." She's not a fluff character in the film, by any means. She gets lots of screen time and several awesome action sequences.

So, then I start considering possibilities and the rabbit hole starts opening up on me. First, I think that they really did leave Gamora off of the mug because she's a girl, but then that would imply that the marketers think that comic books fans, especially ones that drink their own coffee but go the movies won't be accepting of her. Then I think - but I noticed that she was missing, and aren't I part of the intended demographic of both the movie and the coffee mug? So then that means I must feel guilty that a woman wasn't included, when women wouldn't actually want her to be on there to be objectified, so I'm bad for trying to introduce gender into a discussion that it shouldn't even have been in in the first place? It's not like the marketers can be wrong - after all, any time I don't get a commercial it's not because it's a bad commercial, it's because I'm not the intended demographic.

Don't comic books play into male adolescent fantasy a little too often for women to not be included, even if they're present for obstensibly the wrong purpose?

Then I think about it some more - Gamora is being played by the same actress that plays Lt. Uhura in the new Star Trek Films, and the lead Na'vi character Neytiri in James Cameron's Avatar. Is there a coffee-drinking man or woman that watches science fiction films that would decline to buy a coffee mug if she was on it? I think not. At a certain point, I have to abandon trying second-guess a feminist viewpoint and go back to trying to see the fan viewpoint. They're a team, she's on it, she should be on the coffee mug.

There's contact information on the bottom of the mug for the company that made them. Since it's here in America, I guess I will try to talk to them.

Let's try this in the contact form and see what happens:

I recently picked up one of the Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy coffee mugs from my local Wal-Mart retailer and opted for the "Character" mug over the "Drax" mug just to have more of the characters but I was still a little disappointed that Gamora was not included. I have been often reminded that I don't really understand marketing.  In those cases where I don't understand the marketing it's often the case that I'm not the intended demographic anyway. I don't actually drink coffee, but I got it for my wife who does. We're both over 40 and have a couple of kids and we all enjoyed the movie.  So - is it because I'm not the standard demographic for this product, or is it because of some marketing reason that I'm unlikely to understand that Gamora's not on the "Character" mug? (Or is there some simple explanation that I've entirely overlooked?)

I'll follow up on this post when I get some sort of a response from the mug manufacturer.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cubing in public, and breaking cube news

Having had a number of long days and odd situations at work, I was faced Friday with the prospect of having to take a long lunch so I didn't put myself into unauthorized overtime. I brought my good stickerless DaYan with me, and went to go run some errands to make the most of my lunch hours.

I had intended as my first stop to go to Home Depot and find out if they could sell me a prefabbed kitchen drawer to replace my blown-out silverware drawer. Particle board is not amenable to being re-drilled that much, and it had several stress failures in it. I discovered at Home Depot that they don't do kitchen cabinets the same way that they used to. I remember it being more like IKEA, where if you want a particular setup, they say, "Go get 4 drawer kits, one Base A, Two Base G's, and a Door M and N." Now, an entire section is a pre-assembled piece and you just have to fit them together, and the drawers are done completely differently now. Smartly, the rollers are underneath the drawer instead of hanging off the sides, so gravity doesn't act to misalign the mechanism.  I made a couple of laps around the furniture section, hoping to catch someone's eye so I could ask the stupid question to which they were going to answer "No" to, but the only employees that I was able to engage either were in other sections or the sniper guy in the front of the store that I wasn't going to talk to because I wasn't particularly interested in whatever special offers he had today.

Feeling down for having flunked out of the first errand, I walked over to the TigerDirect in the same plaza. Instead of avoiding the salespeople, I brandished my cube and walked right towards them. When the first person said "Hey - Rubiks' Cube!" I knew I was going to be good to do my three minute schtick. I managed to finish off a 27 second solve, talked to them about Will Smith learning to do the cube for ha movie, the fastest current time, the basics about the Fridrich method, how the corners first method is different, how algorithms work, and how learning how to do two moves with a single had motion improved my time. After the demonstration, I got someone to direct me to a good keyboard because I had gotten tired of the overly flat Dell keyboard that comes with the new computers that my company has been rolling out. They showed me a Microsoft Ergonomic 4000 and they had it for $35, and I was pretty darn happy about that. I even did a little bit of my cube demo a second time for the cashier who rang me up since nobody was in line behind me and they seemed interested.

After I got done with that, I went down to the Gamestop up the street. I found a used copy of Killer is Dead marked at $8, but it rang up $16. The cashier was nice about it and split the difference, so I got it for $12. While he was figuring it out, I did a little bit of my cube routine for the line that had formed behind me. During part of my schtick, I had mentioned to the cashier that I usually had my cube with me for when I had to wait in line at places instead of playing Angry Birds, and I got a sort of a hipstery I-didn't-think-anybody-still-played-Angry-Birds response from him. That's a sentiment that's not unexpected from the general public, but I found it slightly unexpected from a game store employee. This is Gamestop after all - if people weren't playing old games they wouldn't be making enough money to be in a strip mall every 15 miles all over America.

So, having forgotten several items on the list, I found myself at Walmart later that evening to get a couple of the things I couldn't manage to get elsewhere. Our local store is being remodeled, so everything is out of place. Towering shrink-wrapped pallets fill the rear aisles, the newly redesigned parking lot doesn't have cart corrals in the right places, the back-to-school section is two narrow corridors of doom and destruction, support posts block the traffic flow of the most used cash lane of the store, turkey pans are assisting with the air conditioning system, and if anything new came in the store you would only find it by accident.

Last night's accidental discoveries were some of the Star Trek series of Hot Wheels cars and a newly redesigned Rubik's cube!

The packaging is clear plastic on top to show the cube inside, with an insert on the bottom that mentions that there's a new smoother mechanism and on the other side that there's a new Rubik's cube app on Google Play and the Apple Store. The cube is shiny - at first I thought that it was just redesigned stickers but it turned out to be embedded plastic tiles. This is not the first time that a Rubik's cube was done with tiles, but the plastic tiles on the 80's cubes were thicker. These new tiles are recessed. I have not been able to disassemble the new cube as I find the mechanism is rather stiff. It may have a spherical mechanism similar to the Void cubes and the 80's Rubiks' Revenge, or it may just be that there are spherical feet. It is not suited for speedcubing that I can tell, but perhaps some breaking in will do it some good. The only information that I had found about the new cube was on the Hasbro page.  I had one face that I couldn't turn that well for ten minutes or so, and then with a firm grip on two layers I was eventually able to turn it. I couldn't tell if it was hung up or there was a piece of plastic flash, but now I can hear a rattling piece of plastic inside the cube when I shake it. Since I can't wear down or delaminate the stickers and they're widely available, I suppose I could silicone this one without fear. If the silicone lubricant works, it would be the first time in a long time that I can carry around a real Rubik's cube without having to apologize for it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

USFIV, slideshow version

I tried to add a Street Fighter video to my Youtube channel, but it was more like a slideshow. I was thinking that it could have been because I was connected via wireless, but apparently I'm not the only one with the problem.

Here you go anyway, if only for humor's sake and for subsequent comparison.



Ken's Ultra reaches a little farther than expected, both in the first and third rounds. Done out of total desperation on my part, that Evil Ryu player should have eviscerated me.