Posted by: StingRay | August 25, 2008

…while playing Wii Fit.

My wife and I have finally set up our Wii Fit. We purchased it a few months ago, because, like the Wii and Mario Kart, if you don’t buy it when you see it, you’re not getting it later. At least, that’s how it is around here, still. We’ve only had it up a week, but, as it’s a “game” we’ll be playing for a while, here are the Lessons Learned, so far.

  • Location, location, location. You’re going to need a bit of space for Wii Fit. That’s the main reason it’s taken us several months to set the thing up. My office is too small, the bedroom isn’t laid out conducively, and the living room doesn’t have space for one of our two giant CRT TVs. In all honesty, we probably could have made the office work, but it would have been a tight fit, and I had an excuse to buy a new TV. Fiscal Responsibility, meet your replacement, Reckless Gadgetphillia.
  • Beware the BMI. This is, unfortunately enough, not a game for those with a terrible self image. The general uselessness of the BMI measurements in Wii Fit have been well-documented, but it’s still worth mentioning. If you have a lot of muscle, or if you’re honestly big-boned, expect to be treated as overweight of obese.
    A couple of years ago my doctor measured my BMI. He said I was just about 25 points. I’d need to lose 3 pounds to get out of the overweight category. Wii Fit has me measured at nearly 34 points, well into the obese range, and my Mii reflects that. My habits have actually gotten better since that doctor’s visit, so I know something up here.
  • Oh, the pain! If you don’t already have a regular workout routine (and if you do, I’m not sure why you’re using Wii Fit), expect to be sore. My back hurts, my abs ache, my neck is even sore. Thankfully, it’s mostly all the right kind of sore. At least, I assume it is. The one thing I’m worried about is my right ankle. I don’t think that’s the right kind of sore. I’ll discuss that in the next point.
  • A little bit more technical guidance would be nice. I’m wondering about my ankle because it has always given me some issues, but it’s extra touchy now that I’ve taken up the jogging game on Wii Fit. In that, you’re supposed to jog in place and keep a steady pace for however long of a course you choose.
    The game pretty much assumes that you’re capable of jogging in place. I’m clearly not so proficient. I keep a steady pace, or what feels like a steady pace, but the game seems to think I’m switching between really slow and really fast for the length of the course. Thus, my score is low at the end, and the gamer in me rebels.
    Then there’s my ankle. I lift my legs and swing my arms as if I were jogging, but my ankle slowly protests more and more, and I really don’t feel winded like I expect to. I’m a stereotypical gamer who can’t run a hundred feet, or climb two flights of stairs without feeling winded. Maybe I’ve built up some endurance since starting back up at Wal-Mart and just didn’t notice. Regardless, I wish there was a little more guidance during the run than being told “You’re not keeping a steady pace.”
  • A little bit more fitness guidance would be nice, as well. I love the times when a screen pops up at the end of an exercise and says “Try these together!” They’re little mini-workouts and they give me some actual guidance on what to do next, rather than just poking around in the dark. So far, I’ve found two. There need to be more. I wish every exercise had one of those attached to it. I wish there were an option for “Help me develop a routine.” Something, anything. As it is, I just feel like I’m stabbing wildly in the dark and hoping that I’m doing it right. Going from no exercise to some exercise is great, but I know there’ll come a point where I’ll need to go the next step and start doing specific exercises.
  • Yoga is actually rather enjoyable. I’m reminded of the recent Onion Radio News about a man gently breathing out his last vestiges of manhood every time I start up a yoga pose. The truth is, though, that they’re surprisingly challenging. With any luck, a bit of practice will allow me to finally touch my toes without bending my knees, a feat I’ve not been able to accomplish my entire life.
  • I’m a little bit worried about the balance board. The box says the thing can hold 330 lbs. and I’m only around 265, but I’ve heard some distressing cracking noises all the same. I haven’t seen anything give way. It’s only been a week, and I trust Nintendo’s craftsmanship better than that, but the noises weren’t figments of my imagination. I wonder if they’re the thick-carpet feet we’re using that are making those noises. I dunno.
  • I feel like I need to purchase a regular scale. I realize that a person’s weight can change throughout the course of a day, but I’m a little bit confused by how that all works. This isn’t exactly Wii Fit’s fault, but the game is really responsible for the thought. When we’re working, we usually exercise relatively immediately after work at about 9 am. On my first day off, I waited about twelve hours after waking up before exercising and taking a body test at about 7 pm. That should even it out, right? I guess not. I was told I’d gained something like 4 pounds. Then, three days later, I tested again at my usual post-work time, and I’d lost 4.5 pounds. I’m confused.
  • Edit: Unlockables! I hate unlocakables! I don’t know how I could have forgotten this. There are certain games where unlockables are not a bad thing. Any game where there are levels, or the locked content is secondary to the gameplay, I’m okay with. But, in a game like Wii Fit, I don’t understand the point of locking down certain games until a time limit us reached. I get the harder difficulties being locked. But individual games? That’s just poor form.
In the end, I’m really enjoying Wii Fit. I hope I’m capable of sticking to a regular workout routine, but I’ve already failed at that. That’s not a shortcoming of the game, though, but rather my own tendency to procrastinate and get distracted. (My various blogs are testaments to those two traits of mine.)

There are a number of things I wish were added. If this were a Sony or Microsoft product, I’d expect them to be fixed in *** Fit 2, but Nintendo doesn’t always (heck, rarely ever) puts out a sequel on an existing system, so I’m not sure there’ll be a Wii Fit 2. Maybe someone will come up with a third party version. I’d certainly buy it.

Posted by: StingRay | July 23, 2008

…while playing Assassin’s Creed.

I don’t know that I have much to say by way of introducing this game.  It’s published by Ubisoft.  It’s been out for a while.  If you want to know more, check out the link on the sidebar.  Let’s get into it.
 
  • Attitude problems don’t constitute interesting characters.  I don’t care much for the main character’s attitude.  I’d much rather have played a true novice, than an asshole who got demoted.
     
  • Simple controls are not necessarily a bad thing.  Climbing is incredibly fun.  It consists of pressing up, for the most part, but that doesn’t matter.  The simple control scheme allows me to focus on how high I’ve climbed, and how fluid the animation is.  Very well done.
     
  • NPCs should be just as real as the player’s character.  I wish that I didn’t feel like “Main Protagonist” all the time.  There are beggar women and mental patients in the street.  They see me and the beggars run in front of me begging and the deranged push me around.  In theory, I shouldn’t kill them, and I don’t, but they’re annoying.  The thing is, they only bother me.  I don’t see the beggars block anyone else’s paths, and I don’t see the (I’m guessing) schizophrenics push anyone else around.  I’m supposed to be anonymous while moving through the streets, but I very much don’t feel that way.
     
  • The outside-the-Animus scenes: please don’t ever do that again!  It seems to me that this was Ubisoft’s idea of keeping the player engaged during a cutscene, while also giving the option of skipping said cutscene.  I’m usually just annoyed, though.  There’s nothing to do, no gameplay to be had, and the story is largely throwaway.  It’s an irritating break thrown arbitrarily into the game and I have yet to feel like it adds anything significant.  Maybe when the game’s over I’ll have a different opinion, but, over halfway through, I’m just annoyed.
        Okay, I’ve finished the game, and the non-Altair scenes just got more and more annoying.  They completely broke my sense of immersion, and I really just couldn’t care less about what was going on.  I can forgive a HUD and a timeline that skips around.  It’s really, really, not necessary to pull out the contortionist routine to explain save games and pause menus.
     
  • All cutscenes should be skippable.  Lemme say that again.  All cutscenes should be skippable.  EVERY SINGLE ONE.  I’m sure that developers everywhere think that they’re story is incredibly compelling and needs to be seen, but gaming is about making your own story.  I just cut a swath of destruction across Acre, as I rode down the guards at the city entrance and picked every fight I could on my way to each of the city’s viewpoints.  That’s what I’ll remember later on, not the verbal sparring between the asshole main character I don’t identify with and the asshole assassin’s guild bureaucrat I don’t care about.  Allowing me to walk around in circles while talking to the guy only really breaks my suspension of disbelief even more.
     
  • Audio should be centered on the character, not the camera, by default.  I don’t know if this is an option that can be changed, as it’s only happened during the annoying modern day scenes, but the dialogue fades out if I move the camera around the room.  So, in order to hear what anyone is saying I have to have the camera pointed right at the person, regardless of where my character is standing.  This is boring, and in a scene I already find pointless, this is especially excruciating.  Audio (dialogue, at the very least) from the character’s point of view should be the default mode, regardless of whether it’s an option or not.
     
  • Genre fusing is dangerous territory.  I’m still torn over the (I assume) alien object at the end of the game.  Even if it’s just wildly technologically advanced, it still kind of came out of nowhere.  I can accept the Animus.  We’ve established that this company has developed a new technology that can read genetic memory, fine.  One assumes that this technology is based off of previous technological advances also from the modern day.  The technologically advanced object in the Middle Ages, though….  Well, I’ll say that I’m not surprised that they went there, but I do wish that there had been a little bit of foreshadowing.  I’m all for mixing genres and playing with audience expectations, which is why I can’t condemn this outright, but I’m not so sure it was handled very well.
     
  • It’s not necessary to throw a sandbox and hundreds of collectibles into every game.  Every area in this game has a ton of little collectible flags for you to find.  The game also includes the “Go anywhere, dick around as you please” philosophy of sandbox games.  This is only a real issue because the game also tries to instill a sense of urgency into you.  Outside the Animus, you’re constantly being told that your life is dependent upon your cooperation, and that you need to hurry up and get on with it.  Inside the Animus, there’s a sense of “I’ve got a job to do.”  Neither of these is exactly conducive to just popping around and picking stuff up.  And, realistically, the sandbox game works best when you’ve got lots of options, lots of things to do.  Altair can basically only kill people and climb stuff, and, really, what point is there in just randomly running around and killing people and climbing stuff?  He’s supposed to stay anonymous and protect the people.  These are not ideas that play well together.  I understand that Ubisoft’s trying to add value to the game, but all it really does is break immersion.  The doc will scream at you if you take more than two seconds to pick a level, but he has no problem if you pick a level you’ve played three times already.  That makes sense.
     
  • Finally, GIVE YOUR STORIES A PROPER ENDING.  I don’t care if you’ve got a trilogy planned, paid for and written.  I don’t care if I don’t care about the story you’re telling.  I don’t care if the ending is happy or not.  I just care that you actually END the damn thing.  I’m not even talking about the surprise hint at the end of a story, where someone you thought was dead opens their eyes, or something like that.
        No, I’m talking about “To be continued” endings.  I despise “To be continued.”  I especially despise it when I’m looking at a year or more before the story actually is continued.  And the worst part is, in Assassin’s Creed, it was the modern day story line that failed to wrap up.  Altair’s story ended satisfyingly.  He figured out what was going on, reconciled past differences and took out the bad guy.  There was the obligatory “The real story is even bigger than that” ending, but Altair’s plot line was complete, and that revelation was more prologue to a new plot than anything to do with the old plot.
         The final scene outside the Animus, though, was not a resolution.  I don’t want to give it away, since so many people despise spoilers, but basically, you started out stuck in a room with nothing to do, and you end up stuck in a room with even less to do.  There are hints of future revelations, but NOTHING HAPPENS.  Nothing happens through that entire story line.  Nothing gets developed, nothing changes, the characters are all flat and what little plot there is is left completely unresolved.  I didn’t like that part of the game to begin with.  When I got to the end, I despised that part of the game.
     
In the end, I really liked the Middle Ages portion of the game.  Sure, the gameplay wasn’t exactly varied, but it was incredibly executed.  I just wish the Middle Ages portion was the only portion.
Posted by: StingRay | July 23, 2008

…while playing Age of Conan.

My 30 day trial of Age of Conan ended recently.  I didn’t get to play it as much as I’d expected, because the game was practically non-functional with the 1 Gb of RAM my computer has.  I ordered a 4 Gb upgrade, but had to wait, and then install it, and then I was out of town, and yadda yadda yadda.  The point is, I only really was able to take away a few lessons from it.

  • Loading screens and quick fetch quests don’t mix.  I’ve always found “Go talk to X and come back” quests annoying.  They were, though, basically free XP, and I’m not going to complain about free XP.  What I will complain about, though, is when talking to X requires four separate loading screens.  One to leave the inn, one to enter the X’s house, one to leave X’s house and one to go back into the inn.  This annoyance was lessened a bit when I upgraded my RAM, but before that, each screen was anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds long.
     
  • Loading screens should encompass ALL of the loading.  If you’re going to insert a loading screen into your game anyway, then at least use said screen to load all of the assets that need to be loaded.  Often, when I’d leave the inn, I’d be pleased to see the loading screen speed by.  The bar filled quickly and in no time at all I was standing outside the inn.  The problem: not much had apparently loaded.  Textures were non-existent, NPCs hadn’t loaded, and, worst of all, it was impossible to move around while all of this was loading.  So, I had to stand there in front of the inn, waiting for everything to catch up.  I’d much rather look at a loading screen during that time.
     
  • Active combat is a good thing.  I very much liked the combat in AoC.  I had a few complaints (slow reaction time, seemingly unreliable queueing of actions, spell animations that end before the spell is cast), but I think those would have gone away with practice.  I felt engaged by the combat system, and I could see potential in the blocking system.
     
  • Speaking as a guy, bare breasts are always nice.  Speaking as someone who’d like to see video games progress into maturity, rather than just adult content, I wish they’d have been a little more… active with the sexuality.
         The best example from my short playtime would be Casilda.  You rescue her early on, she seems to be a prostitute, and she offers to “reward” you, but nothing ever comes of it.  This is a lost opportunity.  I don’t intend to sound perverted, but had the developers the guts, they could have added a dialogue tree or two that led down a path where you actually get that “reward.”  No need for a mini-game, or even a graphic cutscene, but some sort of real relationship development would have been wildly unexpected, and would have launched Casilda out of the realm of simple titillation.  
         The sex in AoC is really just provocative, and not much more.  It’s there to shock and excite, but it really seemed to have no bearing on the game.  Again, I didn’t get very far into it, so that may change, but I doubt that. 
     
I think that’s about it.  I didn’t really get enough playtime to get much more.  I’m simply not in the mood for another fantasy MMO, but if I was, I’d probably stick with AoC.  As it is, I still might check it out again in six months time or so, once a few patches and updates have dropped and the game’s been broken in a bit.

I find it interested how certain words morph the longer you look at them.  For instance, while trying to figure out if there was a way to get some variation on lessonslearned.wordpress.com, I typed lesson and learn in a number of variations and combinations.  By the end of it, neither looked like it was spelled correctly, and, indeed, they no longer looked like English words.

I settled on messagerecieved as the domain because all the even remotely logical variations on Lessons Learned were taken up by non-existent or long-out-of-date pages.  Not that I’ll begrudge anyone their long pauses.  Plenty of my posts are months apart.

This page is going to be where I consolidate my Lessons Learned posts from my other blog, as I finalize the lists.  For instance, I just posted an incomplete lists of Lessons Learned While Playing Assassin’s Creed.  I’m only halfway through the game, and I expect to think of a few more by the time I’m finished.  When I’m done with that, I’ll move the Lessons to this page.  

I’m thinking I won’t just limit my Lessons Learned to video games, but will expand it to whatever strikes my fancy.  Hopefully they’ll be interesting.  I guess I’ll worry about that bit, though, when and if I get any readers.

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