Sunday, November 22, 2015

New video, bad solves, and a new WR in Maryland.

Since it would appear that I'm one of the few people that has bothered to shoot video of the now uncommon Zonitk cube, I noticed that reddit had discovered it. The video quality didn't seem that good, so I shot another one today.

Along for the ride is a giant acrylic light-up cube made by Paladone. I made some pretty gigantic mistakes with the big cube, and my Zontik time was much better than in the last video. I did a pretty solid (well, for me anyway) solve of the last cube, a Yongjun Yulong. However, it doesn't quite compare to the new world record set at the River Hill Fall 2015 in Clarksville, Maryland.

Lucas Etter (USA!), prior to this competition, was ranked 9th for single fastest solve at 5.85 seconds, but second place at 7.13 for average solve time. (Average is computed from removing the best and worst time from five attempts and calculating the mean of the remaining three attempts.)

Felix Zemdegs(Australia) held the only average under seven seconds prior to this competition, so we'll have to see if that changes after all the results are posted to the World Cube Association.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Splatoon Amiibos!

I don't know if it had anything to do with Splatoon for Nintendo's WiiU winning a Golden Joystick award, but finally after months of being impossible to get and never visible on store shelves, Splatoon amiibos are available!

This three-pack is the only way to get the Squid amiibo. The squid amiibo gets you a set of armor that you gradually unlock parts for as you complete specific challenges. It also gets you the Hero Shot replica weapon for your character, and the Squid Beatz mini-game. In case the title isn't self-explanatory, it's a rhythm-based game. You have to hit either the D-pad or buttons in time with the symbols that appear to one of the music tracks from the game.

Here's the girl amiibo.

The girl amiibo gets you the school uniform, again unlocked in parts by completing exclusive challenges, the Hero Charger Replica weapon, and the minigame Squidball.

Last but not least, the boy amiibo unlocks a set of challenges that allow you to earn a super-cool Samurai outfit, the Hero Roller Replica weapon, and the minigame Squid Racer.

The purpose of the mini-games is to give the player something to do while they're waiting for a match to fill up with players. The new challenges that are unlocked are segments of new single player content done with different weapons and battle conditions than the default single player mode. While I'm still not totally cool with the idea of having to collect plastic toys to unlock in-game content, I at least appreciate that Nintendo made an effort to make these amiibo more available after they had a good idea of how many people are actually playing the game. My guess is that the original wave of these figures went directly to collectors and eBay scalpers and not to people playing the game. Based on my older son's opponents, I would say that more people are actually able to get the extra outfits now.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Another new fighter for Street Fighter V, plus maybe SPOILERS

After a fair amount of speculation, the ever-patient and super-stretchy Dhalsim was officially announced for Street Fighter at Paris Games Week.

His play style is built around keeping the opponent away and being able to strike from long distances. In a new twist, the most obvious change to his projectile moves is that they now can travel in an arc, so it might still hit an opponent that you thought was going to jump in even when they're on the ground.

Here's some examples in gameplay from some Canada Cup players.

If you don't want spoilers for the upcoming characters of Street Fighter V, don't click the link for the words "this image" just below here.

Some data for other characters has been found in the data files contained in the latest beta versions of the game. If you have a look at this image, this is some raw code from the beta that had been picked through with a hex editor, looking for file names similar to the structure of the files in Street Fighter 4. Only time will tell if this really true or not, because they're still working on the game and parts could still be changed at this point.

Bonus tip: Angry Birds 2 - complete a section of a level with a single bird, and you get a "Strike" - they're 25,000 points. Complete it with two birds and you get 10,000 points. You don't get any direct bonuses for having birds left over at the end, but if you gets lots of strikes and birdies, you probably will have birds left over.

If you got here from Twitter or Facebook, the answer to the question posed is "parabolas".

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The horror of the pile of shame...

A lot of gamers my age have a "pile of shame", especially if you live near a Gamestop or somewhere else where it's easy to get games on the cheap after the novelty has worn off for someone else. Sometimes the problem is that you get started on a game and get stuck for some reason, sometimes the problem is that you pick up a game when you're in the middle of some different game and it takes a while to get to it and then some really new cool game comes out and the bargain game has to wait a little longer before you even start it. Another thing that happens with the pile of shame for adults, is that there are games that you may not want to play when your kids are watching, so the combination of having both motive and opportunity may not come up often enough for you to make significant progress in the game. Since it's Halloween, I was thinking that I would try to take a stab (heh) at some of the scary games in my pile of shame.

I finally started the PS3 version of Splatterhouse (2010) months ago, and had gotten stuck when I couldn't figure out how to get health back and exit a room on an early level. It's the typical love story game, boy meets girl, boy loses girl in haunted house, boy is nearly killed by said haunted house, evil mask meets boy and tells him he's going to help him get his girlfriend back while fighting his way down to the bottom of the underworld. I picked it back up again the other day, and I think that I figured out why it was in the cheap bin. While I was able to figure out how to regain health, there are a few places where the game doesn't feel quite tuned - particularly when you're trying to impale enemies on spikes (which seems to be the most complicated way to open doors in the game so far). I was pleasantly surprised by the sidescrolling section of the game early on, creating the feel of the original arcade game, and I was just regular surprised by the collectibles in the game as they are pieces of pictures of the protagonist's girlfriend in various states of undress. The making of Splatterhouse has its own sordid tale, since Namco had to throw off the original developer and seize all of the available game assets and hand it off to another company to finish.

Once I got tired of  opening doors by impaling enemies on spikes, I gave Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (2014) a try. While it's supposed to be in the Ninja Gaiden series, and it's made by Koei Tecmo, it seems a lot different from the other Ninja Gaiden games. The first big difference, and why it's even here in the Halloween lineup at all, is that you play as an undead ninja, and you're fighting even more undead. (I'm sure the National Association for the Advancement of Undead People didn't sanction a game where the living-challenged are committing acts of zombie-on-zombie violence.) It feels more like God of War than Ninja Gaiden. The combat is very fluid, but sometimes it's hard to grab opponents during combos, and it's hard to throw a zombie at a helicopter while the helicopter is trying to shoot missiles at you.

I still have yet to finish Resident Evil 6, partly because they changed the controls again (I just got used to 5!) and partly because with so many different character scenarios it's hard to get involved in the characters. Certainly there are many scares there to be had, but after a while the idea of a giant evil biotechnology corporation starts to become more scary than the zombies bioweapons sent to attack your characters.

What I really keep hoping is that we'll see another Evil Dead game on modern hardware, since we haven't seen once since Evil Dead:Regeneration (no, phone games don't count). Since Starz has a new Ash vs Evil Dead series going now, maybe we're going to see a game to go with it.

But, knowing how things go, I'm sure I'll pick up a few cheap games in the meantime that I won't finish all of.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

It's dangerous to go alone...

Despite the warning at the very beginning of the first Legend of Zelda game, you spend a lot of time in the Zelda games alone. A couple of the Zelda games (Phantom Hourglass & Spirit Tracks) have a battle mode where you can play in a battle arena against each other, but it's not really the main game. Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures were real multiplayer games, although the original Four Swords was odd in that it couldn't be played single player at all. Four Swords Adventures is odd hardware-wise in that you had to connect four Game Boy Advance units to a GameCube using a cable that had few other uses, but it did also have single player. Hyrule Warriors for the WiiU can easily be played multiplayer, and you play cooperatively in the main game, but it's different from most of the other Zelda games since there's no dungeon element.

The brand new Zelda game, officially called "The Legend of Zelda : Triforce Heroes", has implemented better multiplayer options, so while it's played on the Nintendo 3DS handheld, you can either play locally via Download Play, or play with two friends or strangers on the internet, or just play single player with yourself and two "Doppels". Simpler than a regular Zelda game, it is comprised of eight dungeons only, with no overworld. Each of the dungeons has a variety of challenges and sections for groups of three players. The controls are very similar to "A Link Between Worlds", another recent 3DS Zelda title. The silliest part of the operation is creating a 3-link totem pole to gain altitude or special moves.

We've just scratched the surface of this game since it just came out Thursday, so we may have more to say about this later, but it's still a Zelda game and Nintendo really cares about their franchises and delivering a satisfying experience.

In other gaming, I have been playing Angry Birds 2 on my phone. It's not particularly different from the original Angry Birds - you fling birds of varying properties at destructible structures with pigs in them. I suppose if I had had a smartphone when the original Angry Birds was out, I would be less likely to want to play Angry Birds 2, but the graphics are nice, and the Arena Battle is fun. Sadly, I have only one other person on my Facebook Friends list (Thanks, Taryn) that is playing this game so I have no idea how well I'm doing. Rovio changed parts of the formula, because the boards are now semi-randomly generated. A given board has a fixed number of pigs and a fixed set of background platforms, but the destructible parts change every time. My biggest compliant with the original game was that I had wished that you could use the birds that you were given in a different order, which has been fixed in this game by a card system that allows you to pick one of three birds at any given time, which is actually more important now due to the variable nature of the boards.  Nearly all of the professional reviewers have complained that the game has been ruined by microtransations, but since I play for only a few minutes at a time in between other things in my day and I'm not spending any money on the game, I don't really find that complaint relevant. It's not Gauntlet or Quake or some RPG game that you might play for hours at a stretch - it's a fun little bird-flinging game you play while you're waiting for your lunch to arrive. The down side of that is that they're not making much money from me but I have watched an ad or two.

If this game ever comes out as a paid release, perhaps on 3DS, they're going to have to change how you accumulate powerups if you're not going to pay for them. If the free-to-play model isn't making them money, though, they're going to have to add enough new content to the game to convince people that already played it for free that they need to pay for it.

Maybe Rovio needs a partner software company to help with making their games work with a bigger audience. After all, it is dangerous to go alone...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Games without fixed price points.

The band I play in on weekends has just started playing a version of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, deeply influenced by the version that the Brand New Heavies does. After one of our shows, the guitarist and I started talking about versions of Peter Gabriel songs that we like – like Pink and John Legend’s version of “Don’t Give Up” versus the album version that has Kate Bush singing with Peter Gabriel.  I explained about how I had started listening to Kate Bush just before I really got into Peter Gabriel, so the Kate Bush vocals really got to me at that time – even on things like “Games without Frontiers” where she’s just relegated to a small amount of backup vocals.

“Games without Frontiers” got me thinking again about the current state of the mainstream gaming market, where the biggest games are starting to throw their weight around and see who can create the biggest collection of things. The biggest amount of floor space in the big box stores that isn’t the locked game case. It is the shelves for Nintendo's amiibo, Avalanche's Disney Infinity (now on version 3 that includes Star Wars!), Activision's Skylanders (now including vehicles), and now Traveler's Tales' LEGO Dimensions. It’s no longer enough that a game is an expensive standalone proposition that sells for $60 apiece, because with all of the man-hours of programming that goes into that it can seem a very risky proposition for company shareholders. Thanks to the very fractured nature of the market, having simply the appeal of a game is not nearly enough. After the rise and fall of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series that showed us that a complicated bit of licensing and some not-so-complicated plastic toys could be used to sell more product to customers, we now have games engineered to sell a crap-ton of high margin plastic toys both to collectors and gamers.

Guitar Hero did well from its inception in 2005 until around 2010. As a result of some really lousy looking fourth-quarter projections, Activision decided to put any future development on hold indefinitely which left Warriors of Rock and DJ Hero 2 as the last releases in 2010.  (Except that they couldn't leave well enough alone and "Guitar Hero Live" will be coming out the 20th of this month and longtime competitor Rock Band just released version 4 on the 6th. )

The first Skylanders was in 2011, followed by new games every year, because that's how Activision rolls. Fans had started complaining about how Trap Team wasn't as good as Swap Force, and before that they complained that Swap Force wasn't quite as good as Giants. Before that, the original Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure had been winning awards for being so innovative. The most recent one, SuperChargers, adds vehicles but somehow loses some of the fun out of the game. Of course, some of that is probably fan fatigue - if you put out a new game in the series every year, you will get a lot of scrutiny between versions and people will wonder if it's worth it to get the new one if they were still playing the old one.

The same sort of year-to-year scrutiny seems to be happening with the Disney Infinity games, but it really seems like Infinity is getting better and just expanding their universe. At first it was just Disney, and then they added Marvel characters in, and then they added the Star Wars universe to it. As long as the new characters are getting compelling in-game content, they don't have to change up how the game plays that much. It's an advantage over Skylanders in that they don't have to introduce characters to you from scratch - kids (and a lot of their parents) already know who Spiderman and Obi-Wan Kenobi are without playing the game. You can't say that about Eyebrawl, or Ninjini, or Hootloop.

With Nintendo's amiibos, there are a few things you need specific amiibos for. Toad wasn't super-difficult to get, but his amiibo unlocks extra content in Toad's Treasure Tracker. The Splatoon 3-pack, which I have never seen in any store, goes for $60 to $80 when it's supposed to retail for $35, and gets you some new single player training missions, minigames, and costumes. There may be other ways to get the costumes, but there's not a way that I can see to get the other content. There's also a weapon in Hyrule Warriors that you can only get with the Link amiibo - that extra $13 may seem a little excessive if you already paid $60 for the game and $20 for the season pass to get all of the DLC. Sure, the Chibi-Robo amiibo unlocks some things in the game, but it's easy enough to get the game bundled with the Chibi amiibo. (Achiibo?)

I avoided Skylanders intentionally because it seemed like a rather expensive proposition. Infinity seems a little bit better, especially with the addition of the expanded Star Wars universe, but the prospect of toy collecting to get levels still seemed  problematic for me.

But, given LEGO Dimensions' amazing combination of LEGO, Batman, Portal, Scooby-Doo, and Doctor Who, I hardly see how I will be able to avoid this.

I mean my kids won't be able to avoid this. Yeah, that's what I meant.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Leaked SFV character is now official, plus bonus robot content.

So let's start with a riddle. Who's a Street Fighter that's green, from Brazil, and is absolutely electric?
No, it's not Blanka, but nobody would blame you for thinking that. The new Street Fighter V character that was previously leaked, Laura, is now official. Here's her trailer.

Based around Brazilian Jujitsu but with the added Street Fighter touches of a very slow fireball and devastating electrified attacks, she seems to have so many options available to her in terms of what her attacks are that she will quickly dispatch any opponent caught admiring her style. What I didn't really see yet is what her defenses are, and it may be hard to figure that out this early. I don't think that she was supposed to be the next character revealed, but I presume that the fact that a few images had been leaked prompted Capcom to officially announce her and end the speculation.

In other news, we picked up the newly released Chibi Robo game ZipLash for Nintendo 3DS last night. We opted for the copy with the amiibo (which we had to reserve), since it seemed like it could be difficult to get it otherwise.

Who is Chibi Robo, you might ask? Well, the first Chibi Robo game was on Gamecube in 2005. (Holy pasta! That was ten years ago!) You got to explore a house from the perspective of a small robot, walking under furniture and climbing up cabinets. You picked up pieces of trash and cleaned spots in an effort to make the humans in the house happy, but there were also other things going on in the house. Evil spider robots called Spydorz were thwarting Chibi's efforts to revive his predecessor, the much larger Giga-robo left in the basement without one of his legs or any battery power. The man and wife of the house were at odds with each other, leaving their daughter to feel withdrawn and non-communicative. If you get all the way through the game, you restore balance and happiness to the house. Part of the mechanic of getting around involved having a limited amount of power, and finding power outlets along the way as a way to recharge. Chibi has a cord and plug attached to him, and he just plugs himself in for a few seconds to recharge his battery.

The new game, instead of being a 3-d platformer is a 2-d side scrolling platformer, with the promise of using his cord and plug as a way to traverse environments. Although there are still outlets in the levels in some places, defeated enemies drop small batteries that allow him to recharge his energy. Chibi-Robo also finds snacks along the way, which is an interesting bit of advertising in itself - all of the snacks he finds are real branded snacks. The game makes it seem that collecting all the snacks is the main objective so it will be interesting to see how many different brands end up being incorporated into the game.

So far the whip mechanic is good, and there is more than one type of level so far, but we're not that far in the game yet. The music is cute, and isn't just the same stuff we've heard in other Chibi games. A lot of the familiar menu and selection music returns along with Chibi's basic sounds so that you have some things that remind you what you're doing, but the level background music is all new.  It's nice to see that Nintendo is still dedicated to a pleasant family-friendly gaming experience.

Don't get me wrong - I still like shooting zombies as much as the next guy, but there's more to games than terror and panic. There's puzzle solving, cute robots, slow fireballs, and hot Brazilian chicks!