Friday, November 23, 2012

But wait - there's games out there!

I'm not quite ready to post the next part of Cubing Without Trying - I got a little distracted by the release of the demo for "DmC". "DmC" is the lastest entry in Capcom's long-running stylish action series "Devil May Cry". The past "Devil May Cry" games star a white-haired half-demon called Dante who tracks down demons to keep them out of the human world with a sword, a couple of pistols, and whatever other weapons he finds along the way. Instead of being a direct sequel or prequel to one of the existing games, it is set in a parallel universe. I let it download when I went to bed Tuesday night, and didn't really get to play it seriously until Wednesday night.

I had heard a lot of negative talk about DmC, since
1) Capcom wasn't doing its latest iteration of the "Devil May Cry" series in-house,
2) the developer, Ninja Theory, was using the Unreal Engine instead of using MT Framework and there was concern that the fast-paced juggling and precise combos of the first four games would be compromised, and
3) Dante's hair was not white this time and he just looks like a stupid cigarette-smoking emo kid now.

I can hardly blame Capcom for farming out "Devil May Cry" to Ninja Theory. Capcom has more different series going at the same time now than they have in quite some time. While "Devil May Cry 4" was a decent game, I could certainly see some things in "Heavenly Sword" that might have made somebody at Capcom take notice, so perhaps they thought it better to let Ninja Theory give them a new take on it. I thought that Capcom had already taken a big risk last time, by having you play a substantial portion of "Devil May Cry 4" as someone other than Dante (you play as Nero up to the game's midpoint), but the Devil Bringer weapon that Nero had made for an interesting addition to the game.  The Devil Bringer could bring enemies to you, or it could allow you to grapple to and propel yourself from distant points. However, this weapon was unique to Nero, and Dante had to find his own way to get around.

In the demo of "DmC", Dante has three different weapon sets. His regular weapon set is the sword Rebellion, with his pistols Ebony and Ivory. Hold the R2 button, and you get a large, heavy battle axe called the Arbiter, and a whip-like doodad that pulls things towards you. In the first level of the demo, there are a couple of platforms you have to pull away from a wall before there's enough room to land on it. Hold the L2 button instead and you get a large, light, fast, scythe called Osiris, and a similar whip-like doodad that pulls you toward enemies or platforms. Right out of the gate, I was comfortable with the combat - the only thing that was even the least bit odd was the lack of a 'lock-on' button, but for the most part the game was adept at targeting what you were looking at. If the game ever opted to target a close enemy behind me when I was shooting at something that I was pointed at in the distance, I didn't notice. Perhaps super-hard-core Devil May Cry fans will complain that their 200 hit combos no longer connect because they made some move 2 frames too slow, and since the whole point of the series is 'stylish action' it completely ruins the game, but I find it unlikely. I have found that somebody, somewhere, always manages to find the move combos that were never evident when the game was made. I was actually very impressed with the demo's look and feel. There were lots of architectural similarities to the other Devil May Cry games - the first few streets you walk through wouldn't be out of place in Devil May Cry 2 or 3. Another thing that I was very impressed with was the dynamic landscape. Buildings shove together to trap you, floors pull away revealing a long drop into nothingness, and a church stretches apart while you're trying to walk through it. The feeling that the city itself was attacking you was both unnerving and exhilarating. There are also hidden enemies (well, they're not that hidden) to defeat and keys and doors to find that add to your level completion percentage.  The doors contain the 'Secret Missions' common to the other Devil May Cry games, but since there was an obvious door, I don't really know how 'secret' they are. I did like that it was very easy to start a Secret Mission again - it doesn't kick you outside if you flunk it. You are exactly where you were when the level finished (all the ones I did were timed, I think) and it asks you to press Select to retry it.

The other level in the demo is a boss battle, which was a crazy caterpillar looking thing hanging by some strange tubes in an ancient underground cavern. (I don't think that's the first time a Devil May Cry boss fits that description.) I guess I hadn't noticed the juvenile F-bomb war that permeates the dialogue in the cut scene that precedes the battle since I didn't have the sound turned all the way up the first time. Well, the game is supposed to be... oh wait, "M" is supposed to stand for "Mature". You get to spend a lot of time in the battle swinging from platform to platform as the boss makes them temporarily (or sometimes permanently) uninhabitable. The close quarters combat with the large boss feels satisfying - smacking its four hands off the platform with the axe to get it to let go is fun. (Just watch out for the puke - it stings a little.)

So, I would say - Yes, it looks a little different. That's not a bad thing. The controls felt very responsive to me, but I would consider myself an enthusiast and not an expert. I stopped caring what color Dante's hair was about a second after I swung the sword in the game the first time. It is not hurt by the Unreal engine in my opinion, as the dynamic levels are a welcome new addition that helps with the immersion in the game. It feels like Devil May Cry, perhaps in a way that I hadn't gotten to do since DMC3. Ninja Theory has done a great job at merging new gameplay ideas with old ones and still feeling faithful to the series. My only actual complaint is that I would rather have the older slightly cheesy double entendre-laden dialogue over a barrage of F-Bombs. (Proof that I'm turning into SuperGeezerCube, perhaps.)

Also, while you're out shopping now, don't forget to check out the Nintendo kiosk at your local retailers.  Most locations have their WiiU displays out now, and you can check out what's up with Nintendo's new machine. When I saw our local one last weekend, there were no playable demos yet, but there were trailers for quite a number of games, and you can see how the Wii U touchscreen controller feels in your hands and how it is to operate.  You can even use the stylus to swipe between games and then select a trailer to play.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cubing without even trying to - Part 2

Saturday a week ago, I had a lot of time to sit in the car and I presumed that I would have plenty of time to tackle my problem with the two Disney cubes, pictured above with my 25th Anniversary cube. The Disney cube on the right has Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto on it. Each face has a colored background and a differently colored burst on it. It didn't take too long to narrow down which pieces went with which center once I got once face done correctly. It was finished by 10 after 7 that morning, even with other distractions and eating breakfast-like substance in the car. As with most picture cubes, once it is clear what goes where the only thing that makes it different from a standard Rubik's cube is that the orientation of the center piece matters.

The second Disney cube, the one on the left, was more problematic. The six centers had either Daisy's or Minnie's face on them, plus one edge piece had Minnie's face on it. The remainder of the pieces were either pink, light green or sky blue, with either polka dots or flower patterns. I was able to figure out that almost every face had some combination of two colors on it, but it was rarely clear what went where as some pieces were just a bow on the background color with nothing that specifically tied it to an adjacent sticker. I never managed to complete any face, and I don't think I managed to be certain about more than three pieces going together. I abandoned it for Saturday, and looked at it again on Sunday, hoping that perhaps I would be saved by Google Image Search. Sadly most of my searches for a picture of these cubes yielded either the official Disney Rubik's Cube (which is a standard size cube far easier to solve than either of these) and a few of the links led back to the previous Friday's post. I looked at it again a few times subsequently but I had no breakthroughs. Given enough time, I suppose that I could have scanned the stickers and printed them out and treated them like 6 small jigsaw puzzles, which could have corrected for the possibility that some of the stickers had been moved prior to my attempt at solving it, but as the other one had not been tampered with, it was probably not the first thing I should have assumed.

I handed back the cubes on Friday, one solved, one unsolved, with the promise that if someone can tell me what the pictures are, I can get it solved in 10 minutes or so. (I never want to lowball a solve time for a keychain size cube since turning them too hard can result in injury or a broken cube.) In part 3, we'll get into the math of a picture cube when you don't know what the picture is.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cubing without even trying to.

I got my 25th Anniversary Rubik's Cube fired up again the other day.  One of my kids prompted me to get it going again. I had shelved it for a while because one of the yellow stickers had delaminated, giving the appearance of a white sticker. As the 25th Anniversary cube has no white side - the side that would normally be the white side has silver shiny stickers on it - it was theoretically no barrier to operation, but I robbed a yellow sticker from one of my other out-of-commision cubes so it didn't confuse me.

Its mechanism is better than most of my other cubes, only surpassed by the DaYan, but as I misplaced my DaYan some time ago this will have to suffice. I had it with me tonight when I went to go pick up some pizza at a place I used to go to every Friday, and now only go every three months or so since I have been dedicated to making pizza myself when I can. As the order was already made when I got there, having ordered ahead of time, I headed back to my car rather quickly with no time to stand around twisting the cube. Apparently, some of the other employees noticed me there with the cube anyway. As I am about to start the car, the assistant manager that handed me my pizza comes out to talk to me.  My first thought was that there was some mixup with the pies and I ended up with somebody else's.  My fears quickly subsided when the assistant manager says to me "One of the employees here was just telling me that you're really good with that Rubik's cube..." So, I give him as much demonstration as I can in two-and-a-half minutes. Typically that's one solve, one solve with explanation, and a quick demonstration of  the concept of a move and its inverse.

Once home and distributing pizza, I realize that I had not gone to the bank and it was not yet closed. Forgetting my cube entirely, I go to the bank branch that I would normally go to much earlier in the day. Once there, I am in more of a line that I would normally be. Two or three of the tellers notice that it's me right away and I'm a little surprised that they have zeroed in on me as I do not have a cube on my person. They assure me that someone will be with me right away and I get ushered down to one of the tellers that noticed me. I make my deposit, and I then get handed not one, but two miniature Disney picture cubes. One is black plastic with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy stickers. The other is white plastic with Minnie and Daisy stickers. They're approximately the size of a keychain cube, and of similar manufacture. The bank tellers had been eagerly anticipating my arrival all day. My instructions - they would like to see them solved. No hurry, of course, I can bring them back in a few days. Why me? Because I'm the only person they know that can do it. It's not like they don't know where to find me.

Pictures will follow once the Disney Cubes are solved.