Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Basics of Importing Games

I have recently enjoyed importing games and am going to write a post about the basic considerations when importing hoping to help others interested in importing. There are a lot of details you'll need to look into, but this is a quick overview to get you started.

Does Your System Support Importing (Region Locking)?
The first thing you need to know is if you will be able to boot the game on your system. Some systems are region locked and will only read disks with a matching region encoded to them.  3DS is region locked while the DS was not. Playstation 3 and 4 are not locked, but I haven't looked into others so I won't list them. A Google search will answer this question quickly. If your system is region locked you'll need to buy a system for the region the game is made in. This may or may not be easy for example the 3DS is self contained, anything that is not you will need to know if it supports NTSC/PAL and if your TV also does. Also some kind of power/pug adapter may be required, plugs are easy but 110/220 voltage is not always.

PCs are technically always open, but I've read up on a few rare cases that require you to change the language and/or location in the operating system.Other issues may still apply though, keep reading.

Is the Online Play Restricted in your Area (IP Blocking by Region)?
IP addresses are the internet's way of telling who's who where the data needs to go. IP addresses are grouped by country like mailing address and some game servers restrict access to IP addresses for anything not in their intended area. I'll give two quick examples of this.

- Monster Hunter Portable 3rd: The middleware software that allows multiplayer on the Playstation 3 HD version does not connect in the US. So I can play all the single player content fine, but won't be able to use the multiplayer.

- Monster Hunter Frontier: This game is an always online game so basically you can't play any of it without connecting to a server as far as I can understand.

So how do you get around IP blocking? The only way I am aware of is using a VPN connection to an IP address inside the restricted access area. I've setup a free VPN and had a lot of latancy just web browsing, so haven't tried to play games over it at all. There are also paid VPNs that will probably perform better. Lastly I've also read about Frontier players being found out and the VPN being blacklisted so one one else could use it to play. I've avoided trying to get past this kind of restriction so far.

Is the Game Localized in Your Language?
This can be a bit one... Here are some considerations.

- If you are importing the game anyway, check all regions to see if any are better. Gundam Breaker 3 for example was never released in North America, but the Asia release had English subtitles and menu translations, so importing this version was far superior to the Japanese version.

- Look for versions that have language more similar to yours. I don't have a ton of experience with Spanish or German, but both are easier to try to decipher for me than something without the Latin alphabet.

- If other games in the series are in your language play a lot of them first. In my case most of the titles I've imported are Monster Hunter titles and I started by playing their English versions and mostly imported to play on the big screen instead of handheld. The game is still very recognizable to the original so most of the mechanics and iconography are similar enough to understand knowing them in English first.

- This one will require some gray areas, but a lot of games have fan-translated version. If you are playing on PC you might be able to patch it in, or if it's not a current generation console you might be able to find an emulated version of the game that has been patched you can use as reference to learn some of the mechanics. As long as you actually own a copy of the game and the system it seems gray, but I'm not a lawyer, so don't take my word for it.

- Look for community sites, YouTube videos, etc that other people have posted to help out.

- Google Translate
In my opinion this is the big one and what really makes importing a language you don't understand doable. Sorry for the boor quality shot, but Google Translate allows you to use your camera's phone and will in real time translate the text in the camera to your language. You can also take a picture and highlight just the text you want translated. The translations aren't perfect by any means, but normally will give you a good enough translation to figure it out.

- If you find yourself wanting to import from the same country consider learning the language.

Research the Specific Game and Region Requirements
In conclusion the internet is a big, wonderful, scary, disgusting, amazing place. Someone else has probably already imported the game you are looking out to your region if it hasn't just released. Do your research. Internet searches on every game I've imported and numerous ones that I didn't have told me exactly what to expect. They'll tell you what features will or will not work, the back of boxes will tell you what languages will have auto and subtitles and multiplayer options. Also any third party online middleware should be listed there and you can search for other games using it.

After importing a few games I was surprised how easy and enjoyable it is. And currently I'm spending a large percentage of my gaming time playing Monster Hunter Online a Chinese MMO version only in Mandarin. If there is a game you really want to try go for it and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What do you do with game mechanics you don't like? (Hollowing in Dark Souls III)

First a quick disclaimer: There are spoilers for a very early NPC you come across at the beginning of Undead Settlement, and the game mechanic surrounding it. If you've already read the various posts around the internet about unlocking the secret endings to Dark Souls III, this purposefully gives less spoilers.

Hollowing has been a part of all of the Dark Souls games in one way or another, and though the mechanics have changed I've never really liked it. In Dark Souls III it is optional. I read up on hollowing and it appears you really SHOULD follow this quest line... you are given free level-ups, and the "best" ending of the game requires you to see the quest chain through to completion.

So the real reason I find this fascinating is that the only real draw back (that I can confirm) is it rots your character cosmetically. You go from looking like this:

To looking like this:

To make this less rational... I normally wear the highest defense armor I can find that isn't super over-weight. So normally that involves a helm that completely hides my face. (In my current game I'm not there yet, but it's coming, and the camera is behind you in game anyway.) It's completely irrational that I would miss out on a large quest chain, the "best" ending for the game and free level ups to not look like a zombie right?

But still I rolled back my save losing a weekend's worth of play to avoid going hollow in the first place.

So now Yoel of Londor is sitting at Fireling Shrine offering to "Draw Out True Strength" while I still look like this:

I read up and know I have a limited time to make my choice, but I just can't bring myself to go hollow now that the game doesn't require it. The first words out of Yoel's mouth(y thing) is "kill me" so I even did that before reverting that save as I didn't know if "sin" was tracked in this game. Maybe in New Game + I'll try out going hollow, and maybe I'm more opposed to it because of some of the horrific drawbacks in the previous games. I do really like being embered, I'll just stick with that! :)

A couple more spoilers, but if you've read this far I don't want to lead you astray: What makes it worse is I know I can even cure hollowing if it does indeed get bad (I read some of the mechanics may actually degrade if your hollow level gets to high), so it's not even an unrecoverable choice... Part of me is made for not making it, another part mad for reading up on it and spoiling it, but I was already at the point I was going to revert my save to get rid of it, I just wasn't sure what I was giving up, the answer is a lot... but somehow for some reason it doesn't matter.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Life Before the Quest Journal or A Day in Zelda: Twilight Princess

First thing: There are spoilers from about 30 minutes into the game until about the hour, 1:15 mark. If you haven't played the game yet and don't want spoilers complete day 2 in the story and then read this.

This is mostly an observation post... Going back and playing games from years ago before we had what are now common game mechanics can be interesting! In this particular post it will be the Quest Journal. Modern games keep track for you: bullet point quest objectives, map way-points, etc, you don't have to even read the story text.

This was not always the case! As you can see in this example, to have any hope of progressing in a timely manner you have to read all the dialog and be a little bit lucky. It requires figuring out the order, how everything works together, and not forgetting about any of the parts while trying to solve the whole.

This is also an interesting consideration because a lot of times I ponder leaving popular mechanics out of some of my game ideas for a variety of reasons... but what impact would that really have?

So with no further adieu here is day 2 in the newly re-released The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD.

The only expectation I was given from the day before was one of the kids in the village was finishing a fishing pole and it would be ready for me today.

I climb down out of my house and find the kid that was suppose to give me the fishing pole, instead there are three kids and they are talking about a sling shot at one of their family's shops.

On the way into town I see a lady complaining she lost her baby cradle and expects it to be floating down the river? I get side tracked investigating this, but nothing really pops up... I do note a cat in the game because it looks a lot like my cat in real life. After a bit of searching I follow the river up stream and find a monkey and some land (visible on the map) I can't seem to get to. I try using adjacent zones, etc, nothing, so back looking for the sling shot.

I am able to find a shop, but the lady running it is so distraught about her cat she won't sell me anything... I wonder if it is the same cat I saw earlier. I go back and try to herd it back towards the shop. (The game has taught me this is a mechanic, but the cat doesn't cross the water well, it won't use the bridge, it will swim or get stuck under it, but that seems to be it.) After trying for a while I give up on the cat too and start looking around.

This guy sitting on top of whatever this is who wasn't saying anything before starts talking to me...

About the cat...

And then about grass I can use to call my eagle... funny thing is the eagle can't do anything from here... however if I jump a couple more platforms there is more grass and I can call my eagle from there, and I have a better view of the monkey that was upstream but blocked off. And it looks like he was holding a basket.

So I send the hawk out from this 2nd spot at the monkey and the hawk brings the basket back to me!

I take the cradle to the mom of the kid who was suppose to have the fishing pole for me and after walking her back to her house she gives me a fishing pole. At this point I do put together that the missing cat had to do with a fish and so I go out and catch a fish and then look for it in my inventory and try to lure the cat back to the shop again with no lock. After trying a couple times I give up.

I had talked to a guy earlier that wanted a bee hive knocked down, so I found a spot I could send my owl out and knock it down... this seems to be purely optional, but hey, I was able to progress something.

Since the fish wasn't usable after catching it, I had a thought... maybe if I catch a fish by the cat?!?

So I caught a fish!

The cat stole the fish... and ran home!

So I follow the cat inside and good news! She is now ready to sell things!

So I head outside and collect 30 Rupees to pay for the sling shot that are scattered around the village.

I purchase the sling shot!

And try to take it back to the children, but I'm stopped just before them and told by on of their fathers that he dropped off a package for me... Now how old am I suppose to be? I play with the children, but have a job, but everyone mostly treats me like a child, but the children all act like I'm older, but all the adults act like I'm younger? idk...

Anyway, I finally get to the children with the sling shot.

They make me show off my skills with a sling shot...

before flat out demanding I bring back whatever the delivery was.

So I go back into my house, find a big shiny blue box and find a wooden sword in it... wooden...

Of course the children want to see me skills with the wooden sword... as soon as I'm finished showing off a monkey comes out of the woods and all three children chase after it... because...

I mount my trusty steed who drives more like a garbage truck than a horse and head off into the woods... with only that wooden sword.

I come across two of the children along the side of the road abandoning the third and leave them out in the cold to thing about what they have done...

I run across a merchant who gives me a lantern so he can over-charge me every time I want to re-fill it. And he sends me on my way into a dark cave where my horse won't follow with only a wooden stick and a lantern that doesn't hold enough oil.

After a fair amount of time in the caves I finally find the 3rd child and the monkey that started this trip caged up between two bad guys... I bust them out and bring the girl home.

I run into the father on the way back home and he tells me I'm going to take a present from the village to the castle the next day... after a short dialog and thanks for saving his son I apparently head to bed... that was Link's day off of work!

It will be interesting to play through a game from a time with less hand-holding and more puzzles even in ways we now take for-granted! I'm looking forward to what I can re-learn!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Game Art: The Ideal Art Style vs. Reality of Hardware Limitations

Fire Emblem Fates 2d and in-game models
There is something interesting that has been going on in video game art for a while now. In-game models haven't been able to be displayed at the fidelity of the target or ideal art style.

Fire Emblem Fates 2d and in-game models
JRPG's like Fire Emblem Fates pictured on the right have been dealing with this for a while now due to limitations on their former and current systems. The genre has always been big on hand-held systems and has been popular since at least the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), if not earlier.

As a result of these limitations you see beautifully hand drawn portraits shown over the top of in-game models that fit inside of the system's limitations.

Recently, fighting games were still using this technique. It appears Street Fighter V is using in-game models (possibly with higher texture quality), but Street Fighter IV still looked like this:
Street Fighter IV 2d and in game
Technology is getting better and the newest of titles on the current generation of hardware are using in game models. As an example Killer Instinct:
Killer Instinct vs screen in-game models
Even Gigantic is replacing some really nice 2d artwork with in game models:
Gigantic 2d art and in game model
This is done for various reasons both officially and unofficially. It's easier to maintain one asset as opposed to all of them. Some studios like ArenaNet have said they want customers to know what to expect in their game so they've gone as far as to make all promotional tailors using in-game assets. I just kinda miss the 2d assets. They are softer, more real, and more artistic in my opinion. They allow for something that either can't be done, or is too time consuming to make in the actual game.

I've been searching for a firm grasp on an art style for some Unreal Engine 4 work I've been doing when I have spare time so I've been watching this a bit more closely than in the past. Right now, I think cinematic mixed with a few post effects that are actually in game are getting close to what I'd like to get to.
Fire Emblem Fates cinematic
Other than finding out what all the fuss was about, I picked up Fire Emblem Fates because their cinematic are so good! I think with the limited shadow calculations I believe a better system could render these on the fly with only a few miner tricks.

Blizzard cinematics
Of course the day we are all waiting for is when the Blizzard cinematic quality can be rendered real time in a game... I feel we are probably many years from this, but honestly I don't care about pure realize if this can be pulled off.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Current State of PC "Ports"

There seems to be a disturbing trend with PC ports. Over the past few years we've been treated to mostly decent ports of the majority of games coming out on the current generation of consoles, but that's starting to digress back into the way things were before.

I recently purchased Street Fighter V on Steam and ended up returning it within 48 hours after not being able to solve a crash bug. I'm sure Capcom will fix this bug in the near future, so I'm planning on purchasing the game again when Juri is released and I can get the game at a discounted price. I did attempt to purchase it at release, but was disappointed that I can't run one of my favorite franchises at it's pinnacle visual peak.

I never had any issues with Arkham Knight, but it was notoriously pulled from the Steam store and no-questions-asked refunds were offered even after it returned to the store nearly 6 months after release.

But by far, the worst example in this article is Mortal Kombat X! After putting out a decent PC port of a decent fighter they made the choice to stop supporting the PC version with new content. Most of the work is already done. There is a PC port and the content is already being added to that current port. Games are developed and tested on PC long before they are ever loaded on dev kits for console testing!

So the big question why aren't we getting good PC ports?

I'm sure every one of these games and the numerous other examples I could have used have their own stories. Here are a few things I have seen that may be contributing factors:
  • Studios often buy large supplies of hardware at the same time. Unless an effort is made to diversify hardware, testing is done on less than a half dozen hardware configurations.
  • Testing for so many possibilities is hardware and software is time consuming! Often problems are impossible to reproduce without exactly duplicating the source of the problem. This is especially true of in-house or heavily modified game engines.
  • This is my observation and probably NetherRealm's reasoning: PC players don't seem to buy as much DLC as console players. People I talk to, myself included, wait for a "complete edition" to be released instead of being nickle and dimed by incremental DLC.
  • Possibly little money is spent on a PC port because the studio is afraid there will be too much piracy? (Though strides in DRM have made recent games uncrackable.)
I'm not sure exactly why we are seeing a steep decline in quality, but we are in danger of taking a huge step backwards. Please buy your PC games, let the publishers and developers of any games you want to see on PC know you want their games, and respectfully be specific about port quality and features you appreciate in your games.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What goes into a Sequel? (Rise of the Tomb Raider)

First off a quick reminder, I really like Tomb Raider and my time so far playing Rise of the Tomb Raider. So anything negative is in service of making games better, not putting down Tomb Raider. The first (well remake) I finished (with 81%), and it's rare for me to finish a game. Even though I rushed through the end to get on to the next one, it was an enjoyable experience!

This seems like an appropriate day to post since Rise of the Tomb Raider is coming out today for PC. It looks like we got a good port too!

(although his PC specs are pretty crazy, unless you just built your rig)

So what goes into a sequel? Well, fans have to feel like you put in enough effort to justify a sequel, but if you mess with the formula too many fans of the original will hate the sequel. Everything here will be opinion, but I'll try to give a small list of what worked and didn't for me. First off, will be the two changes I feel the strongest about:

The Expanded Crafting System:

Instead of a single crafting currency there are now many. In Tomb Raider (TR), I get currency from all locations and then I have enough and the upgrade is unlocked, I just spend it. In Rise of the Tomb Raider (RotTR), I have limited inventory (that's still unrealistic so why?) and have to watch out for the exact consumables I need. I'm at a point I need a bear pelt for the upgrade I want, but they are rare. So to keep from wasting materials (if you're over the cap you can't carry them), I've been crafting upgrades I care much less about. There is always the problem of getting the materials you need.

This is an interesting one because I think my younger self with more time to game may have liked this change. I was the one playing World of Warcraft killing Onyxia and complaining that she dropped a ready-to-wear helm that fit my character without so much as an alteration... However, I'm not a fan of farming. If I kill something the size of a dozen buses, I shouldn't have to kill it a half dozen times to get enough materials to create armor for my puny human character. (I'm looking at you Monster Hunter!).

The Overuse of the Gating System:

From the very start of RotTR, it's clear their level designers knew what tools they had to work with from the beginning and did a much better job. A drawback to knowing their tools is the extensive use of gating in their early levels. Recognizable rope arrow points are used extensively from the original TR before they have been made available to you. A new mechanic of lock picking is also introduced along with all the returning mechanics: pry points you need a reinforced climbing axe, explosive walls, etc... The game shows so many places you'll be returning to later once all your gear is available.

As an explorer and completionist, this drives me insane! I like to take my time and comb the area for secrets and feel good when I find them. It seems as if I'll finish RotTR by rushing through the story to the point all "progression gear" is available. Then, I'll go back through the entire game like I normally would.

Okay, now for some other changes that are noteworthy, but don't carry the strong feelings of the two above:

Quick Time Events:

These are back, I played quite a while before I ran into them and thought they were replaced with slow-motion sequences (that use the same controls as real time), but they are there in smaller numbers. A big plus! The less QTE's the better!

Forced Gun Play:

These were points I struggled with in TR. When the game takes you out of cover and everyone sees you and starts shooting at you and you have to fight back. I feel both games are designed better for stealth take downs and spend the majority of my time using the bow and sneaking so mechanically, I haven't spent time with the "normal" guns. So these were difficulty spikes because the game mechanics were forced on me. So far RotTR hasn't done this, but I'm not done with the game yet.

Crafting Arrows & Instantly Healing:

This is a good thing about the new crafting system. Consuming a small amount of materials will allow you to craft your own arrows if you can't find any laying around as well as special arrows like poison arrows. Also, you can heal intently instead of ducking behind cover and waiting for re-gen to start. These are both welcome additions.

The Tombs and Puzzles are Much Better:

I already called out level design, but this is worth noting in it's own section. Level design in RotTR is much better than TR. I think this is almost entirely because game mechanics were mostly in place at the star of development so their team knew what they had to work with.

Changing Controls:

This one may not have been as big of a deal if I hadn't played TR and RotTR back to back. Having controls change between the two games for some of the most used features was annoying! Things like rope arrows (though they probably didn't need their own button) and whatever Laura's sense ability is (think Batman's detective mode) being remapped caused issues as I instinctively reached for the TR controls even after hours of play. I'm still playing Laura, who looks like the old Laura mostly, but controls differently.

The PC Port is Again the Definitive Version:

Granted it is releasing as I'm writing this, but everything points to the work being put in for the PC version of the game including improved graphics, shaders, new nVidia tech, hair simulation, etc. At the time of release, the PC version of TR was the best, but with the next gen update the PC version was left behind mostly (it had some advantages, but overall next gen was better). This is a big deal especially with questionable ports of things like Arkham Knight and Warner Brothers (again) recent announcement they are abandoning the PC port of Mortal Kombat X. It's nice to see some companies are still doing it right!

There are other differences not listed, but these are what stand out when I think about them as mentionable. I would recommend both games and they are both solid entries in your gaming library, but surprisingly I think I like Tomb Raider slightly above Rise of the Tomb Raider as I think a lot of the additions made were more about game play time padding. These days I don't have a lot of time and I don't want it wasted. If a game is beatable in 15 hours, but a solid game with a good story and progression, I'd rather play that game then the exact same game that takes 30 hours because there was 15 hours of padding thrown in. I'm not saying Rise of the Tomb Raider does this entirely, but my first two points I feel like are just for padding. Gating makes you return to areas for the completionist and while a more realistic list of crafting materials is logical, it basically ends up padding the crafting system and as a result, the progression system. I hope you enjoy both games, and I'm looking forward to the amazing looking visuals in the PC release!