Why Half-Life 2 failed

Portal. I’ll borrow the words of Ben Crosham and say that “If you don’t like it, you are stupid.” You can get dizzy, you can get movement sickness but you can’t get bored playing. It is fun and it is smart.

Since I’ve played Portal and like it so much, I decided to play its father, Half-Life 2. You know, I had some fun playing Half-Life, even when, in the last chapters, they give you more ammunition that you can carry, which you completely deplete in a few minutes and then you are left with a shitty weapon that throws bees (which is the only thing you can use for long range.)

Half-Life 2 was praised for being amazing and received a lot of good critics. So, why no to try it?

Well, I must say that I’m not completely impressed by it and it amazes me that it received such praise.

First of all, you don’t the story very much. I mean, of the strongest points of Half-Life was the story. Not much like “We opened a portal to another dimension (with things that are/look like demons) and now you have to kill everything that moves.” More like “We opened a portal to another dimension and you must close it. Oops, it looks like you can close it this side, you must go there and close it in the other side.” Of course, most of story is only understood in the latest chapter (the one you run without any bullets and kill enemies with a crowbar and bees) but it explains much of what you have done. Makes you feel like you just watched “Fight Club” and finally realised what the story was about.

Anyway, Half-Life 2 doesn’t have this kind of closure. Maybe because they decided to split the story in three parts, so you’ll have to wait for Episode 3 to be released to understand why you were put on stasis (which I only discovery reading the Wikipedia page), why you were brought back (still no answer) and why you keep running back and forth (still no answer.)

Second, there are a bunch of chapters (five or six, I can’t remember and I don’t want to remember) which the level designer probably had a fetish about Dukes of Hazzard:

You get a hovercraft-like vehicle and run around in radioactive waste and water. And every time you see a ramp, you have to jump it. If it slightly looks like a ramp, you must jump it. You try to go around it and you find that you need to come back and jump it to keep going forward. Just before the end of those chapters I found a ramp, tried to jump it and failed. The first thing that came to my mind was “Ok, now the guys are making fun of me. ‘We put all those ramps to make you jump, now we are going to put one just to mock you’.” Well, in the end, it turned that I tried to jump it before I could. And I had to jump it.

Still about vehicles, it seems the game designers drive things with a lot of weight in the back and no weight in the front. You get the constant feel that your vehicle (hovercraft, car) is constantly sliding the front wheel.

Third, there is the constant “let me show what our physics engine can do.” You move things, you need to pile things to make ramps (which you use to jump with your hovercraft), you lift bars on doors to keep going… And some things break and some don’t. Door are barred with wood planks, which you can easily break with two or three hits with the crowbar. But, some wood planks used as wall, you can throw three grenades and it would still be there. Ok, your physics engine rocks, Valve, but for the fuck of God, if you put wood somewhere, make it behave like wood in a consistent way!

Fourth, and I will again still from Ben Croshaw and his review of Crysis, some points require that you assign your left button and right button to quick save and quick load. It is so annoying that you need to jump in a three centimetre square or you’ll either fall in the hole of infinite depth or into fire. Or realise that you forgot to put an empty barrel under the bridge, so it won’t fall in the electrified water. Not to mention that you need to do that pretty quick, in a 90 degree turn, jumping over three of those three centimetre squares while a strider is shooting your ass.

Fifth, linear paths. Although it is kinda good, so you don’t get lost while searching for the air conduct hidden in the darkest place of the last room in the corridor you just came from (’cause, you know, there is no point in turning back), it also gives you a complete feeling of lost of free will. You path has been already chosen and you can’t get out of it. Sometimes I found myself wondering “were the fuck I’m going?” just to get there and people say “Hey Dr. Freeman, you made it!” Made WHAT? I was just following the only possible way!

Sixth, fanboynism. At first, it seems nice that everybody remembers you and seem to be happy that you are around. But when completely strangers, just by hearing your name, come like “Dr. Freeman, I’m a man, but I want to be the mother of your child! Make me!” then things start to get weird. It also adds another point to the failure of the story: why the fuck everybody in the whole planet things you are their saviour, their messiah, their Jesus? No explanation so far, except that you killed a lot of them.

Seventh, AI. Although it is cool that people actually use space in the game and you can’t just, say, walk through them, it is freaking annoying that they decide to stay in the fucking way all the time. At first, you get annoyed that, when some enemy throws a grenade at your feet and you move back to avoid the explosion, the friendly IA decides to stay in your way and you can’t get away from it (and probably saved their stupid, pathetic life using your body.) But, then again, you can’t stop smiling when they look at a granade in the floor and look at it like “oh, shinny!” and blow up in pieces. “That would teach them how to get fucking out of the way.” The friendly AI is so stupid that, later, I realised that it wasn’t worth try to save them. Just let them die, maybe they’ll learn how to shoot and avoid grenades in their next life. This is partially solved in Episode One, as your only companion is Alyx (which, much for your happiness, her bootilicious body can’t die.)

Eighth, infinite enemies. At one point, Valve pushed the physics to be the most realistic thing possible. On the other hand, you have this portal to another dimension, which is not something we see every day. Although you can balance those two to work as a normal sci-fi thingy, you can’t stop wondering where the hell are all those enemies coming. First, you have the combine, which captured part of the human population and turned them into mindless droids. By my counts, if you take all 6 billion people living on Earth today, kill some when the combine appeared, kill the children, kill the old, take some to make a resistance, turn everyone else into droids, you’ll probably get the count of 10 billion people. I’m not kidding here. In one of the last chapters of Episode One, combine soldiers keep coming in a steady pace. You need to take some survivors to a train while preventing the combine soldiers to kill them. If you try to kill the combine soldiers before letting the survivors to reach the train, you’ll see yourself in an infinite loop of kill, get ammo, run, come back, kill more, get ammo, and so on.

The insectoid race is even worst. In one chapter, you’ll see yourself in the set of “Tremors“:

You are in a beach where you can’t step in the sand, otherwise a swarm of insects (which look a lot like the bugs in Startship Troopers) will crawl from the sand and attack you, so you need to keep jumping over rocks and other stuff in the ground (remember the “mouse buttons as quick save and load”?) And, if you survived around three waves of such thing, you’ll wonder how the beach didn’t sink after so many bugs coming out of it (remember the “infinite number of enemies” thing?) In Episode One it gets even worst: the insects just pop from holes in the street and the only way to stop them is to move cars over them, so they can’t get out of. You don’t do it, they just keep coming and coming and coming. It is like the whole insect planet from Ender’s Game were inside Earth, which would be hollow and full of bugs. Either that or they reproduce at the speed of 10 per second.

Ninth, story don’t flow if you don’t do what it is expected (yeah, kinda like the fifth point.) You are in a corridor, there is a strider just behind you and the only person who can open the door in the end of the corridor refuses to go out before you blow up the strider, even if you can safely go all the way to the door. That happen about three times in Half-Life 2: the story just stops if you don’t kill a certain object, even if you can safely get away from it.

Ok, that’s what I came with in the last 30 minutes, just remembering some pieces of the game. I must say that the Half-Life 2 guys must learn something from the Portal dudes. Portal, although is just 1 hour long (18 minutes, if you are pretty fast and watch the YouTube video), have a complete story, nice puzzles and it is not annoying. I’m hoping that Episode 3 will take most of good stuff from Portal and be something that actually adds some closure to the Half-Life 2 story arc.

Star Trek: Tactical Assault (PSP)

I would really like to get my “trekker” badge, but I can’t stand the original series. Anything after that is something I really like (even the so hated “Enterprise”).

So, when I saw that there was a “Star Trek” game for my PSP, I thought “I have to have this one.” And, so, I bought it.

When you look at the box art and screenshots, you think you could point where your ship should stay, what weapons use, and such. You know, normal strategy game, as advertised in the box. Unfortunately, it isn’t so. First, you have to drive your ship. Second, you have to fire the weapons. As the weapons have some “arch” around your ship were they can fire, you need to keep them facing the enemy all the time. In the end, this just means that you keep spinning, spinning and spinning.

Also, the game completely forget that the space is a 3D space, not some “2D where people don’t crash just because the go a little bit higher or a little bit down (and then move to the previous place).”

And, just to top it with some yet boring stuff, the only link with the series are the ships and William Shatner voice in the opening credits. Not even the classic Star Trek theme song plays in the opening.

Another good idea just throwed in the garbage bin.

My 18 year old quest

When I was 12, I got a Hotbit from my parents.

Later, I bought a diskette drive for it and got a shoe box full of disks with games. Between those disks, there was “Nemesis”.

I was not good at it. Nowhere good. It was hard to just complete the first leve.

But now, 18 years later, I bought a PSP, a 64 handheld console. And I bought a game called “Gradius Collection”. And then, I could finally try to beat the game. It took two weeks (not counting those 18 years between seeing the game for the first time and buying a PSP), playing it from time to time, to finally see the ending credits:

Now, the question that it is probably roaming your head is: “What kind of fucktard would buy a 64 machine to play an emulation of an 8 bit game and feel happy about it?” Well, the answer is: Gradius is not an easy game. It is not just “select your skills and shoot everything” or “kill things, get money, buy armour/weapons, rinse, repeat”. Those are the games we play today. They don’t have something like “you have to watch around your ship and around the screen at the same time and if you get a hit, just one single hit, you are dead.”

In those 18 years, I played several games and none of them let me so frustated to die than Nemesis/Gradius. And none of them let me so excited about completing a level than Nemesis/Gradius.

Finally I understand why “real men play gradius”.

Funniest Hero quote

The day my father Odin banished me from Asgard, I was bitten by a vampire and had radioactive waste dumped into my eyes. To make matters worse, my mutant ability to control weather activated just as a I was hit by a blast of gamma radiation.

Deadpool, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

You know, somewhat I fell that he missed saying something like “bitten by a genetic-modified spider when he joined an army experiment”.

[Now, try to list every marvel super-hero in that quote.]

Wii get weather support

It seems that a lot of press today about a Wii weather channel for Wii web browser and there are a lot of user comments saying how useless it will be (something around the lines of “who will get outside while playing”).

But the channel can open a brand new type game experience. Imagine that you are playing some game that replicates a known city (like the “GTA” series did). Now, using the weather channel, they could replicate the weather conditions of the city they are copying. Also, using the user’s selected channel (with city) some games could appear with the same weather of the user. In this case, I could see the Pokemon series using this to select which type of pets would appear (water-types only when it’s raining, fire and rock-type only when it’s not raining, ghost-types when it’s foggy and so on). Of course, if there isn’t an internet connection, they would have to resort to some “random” check.

Well, only if consoles pick up with computers…

Guild Wars: Nightfall

After a week playing the second expansion of Guild Wars, “Nightfall”. This expansion sets the story in the continent of “Elona”, in a place that looks like Africa and Egypt. Two new classes were added: “Dervish”, a scythe welding warrior, using wind magic to freeze enemies and “Paragon”, spear welding rangers, with holy attacks. In a way, dervishes are a mix of warrior and elementarist and paragons are rangers with monks, although there are no reused skills.

Another addition to this expansion are the heroes. Heroes are mercenaries-like NPCs: you can carry them on your missions and they will help you on your quests. The difference is that you can carry your heroes between quests and missions and select their skills. They presence also adds another deep into PvP games: since you can “buy” skills to your heroes, you open those skills to PVP characters. So you don’t need to build a warrior in the roleplaying mode to get the skills to play on PvP, a single warrior hero will help you get those skills.

Also, coupled with the heroes, you can now give them simple orders. You can select the type of behavior as attack, making them attack every enemy in the nearby area, guard, only attacking enemies when they attack the team first and do not attack, when they stay in the back of the team and do not engage any battles. Another kind of action is move: you can order single heroes to move to a location or the whole group, including the henchies. Once they move to the location you pointed, they will respect their selected behavior: attack, guard or simply sit there like a duck.

As in “Factions”, the first expansion, you start in an island and have to perform certain missions to get the chance to go to the main land. Differently from the the previous expansion, you don’t hit level 20 too fast. It seems that the developers decided to increase the ladder of experience decline over level. In your first levels, killing enemies give you a lot of experience. But, when you hit around level 10, the experience decreases a lot, so killing the same group over and over again is less rewarding over time. But you can still kill them to get promotion points. Those promotion points don’t give you much, except give you titles like “Sunspear commander”, “Sunspear sargent” and so on. I still don’t know if that affects the number of heroes you can take with you.

About the quests: the first quests and missions are quite straight forward and really nice. You manage to explore the whole island simply following the initial quests. Then, when you have explored the whole island, the quests start to suck. Quests that spawn over several districts, quests that requires that you move back and forth and stupid NPCs that you have to guide over the map that insist in getting in your front, preventing you to go straight or managing to get killed before getting in the end of the quest: you choose. Sometimes, more than one of the previous problems happen at the same time.

I’ve saw people complaining about bugs. I didn’t saw any problems while playing (except those listed above), but it seems the people at Arena Net are listening to players and fixing those bugs.

If you consider that Factions had a worst start, Nightfall seems to go to a good play.

A day in the game

It’s been a long time since I talked about GuildWars. Well, this is an update:

Today GuildWars entered a “Halloween” special event. Every three hours, Mad King Thorns would appear, make some jokes, ask people do do some emotes and tell some stupid stuff. After each conclude action, you get a “ghost-in-a-box” (a box that makes a ghost appear right in front of up, but disappears after a short time), witch’s brew (a potent alcoholic beverage, turns the screen red and add some waves to the image), absinthe (add some green flames to your char, turn the screen green and add some blur), squash serum (add some pumpkin image around your char head) and transformation tonic (turn your char into a corn candy or something like that). All those tricks took 30 minutes to complete. In the end, you get a pumpkin head if you are in Lion’s Arch and a wicked hat if you are in Kamandan.

Also, all NPCs in Lion’s Arch and Kamandan turned into monsters, pointing it as a joke of Mad King. New NPCs appeared as collectors, changing random items to some of those above items. As I’m trying to get the title of “Drunkyard” by staying drunk for 1000 minutes, and witch’s brew being so strong (just two bottles would make your char drunk). One of those collects wanted just two “glowing hearts”, an item dropped by “fire imps”, who stay just right next to the door to Lion’s Arch.

So, my day consisted of: 30 minutes listening to Mad King and two hours and half running after fire imps, changing glowing hearts into witch’s brew and getting drunk.

Just one problem: Kamandan is a city in the Nightfall series, released recently, which I didn’t have. “Didn’t” because, trying to get the wicked hat, I bought it. Now I own the three parts of the game and can go anywhere in this universe. So far, I can say that the new universe is bigger than the previous installments (anything would be bigger than Cantha, the area of “Factions”). There are two new classes: Paragon, a leader with skills to boost a whole group at once and Dervish, warriors with long scythes. I’ve created a new Derverish and it is really worth: they start with abilities like hitting more than one enemy with just one swing. Oh, and the new campaign has this African/Egyptian theme.

So, that’s it. New pictures soon.