Quick Tips For The Developer of Lifeless Planet

Quick tips for the developer of Lifeless Planet (Steam, $20)

NOTE: SPOILERS FOLLOW

  • This is the Marathon logo:

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    If I see it in a video game, I damn well better be hearing this music. Kids these days.

  • If you’re going to name your game “Lifeless Planet”, and you’re going to have the characters throughout insist it is indeed a lifeless planet, don’t show (very alive and active) alien frogs in the very first level.
  • On that note, if the main character points something out, maybe you could make the thing he’s pointing out actually exist in the level design. “Well that’s proof we’re on an alien planet for sure!” (landscape that looks exactly like Utah). “I guess those aliens were killed by the trees” (nothing but trees visible)
  • Games which have a serious, even sad, tone should have art assets that at least somewhat match. In a story like the one you have written, you should perhaps endeavor to not make the female characters in your game look like the cheerleaders from Blood Bowl. (“Oh look at this tragic fate of this character, sad violin music playing—man she has HUGE KNOCKERS!”)

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    (Pictured: female characters in a serious dramatic work. Not fantasy babes.)

  • If you have a plot point that comes from absolutely nowhere, and leads to absolutely nowhere (the main character’s radiation poisoning? I guess? Did he even have radiation poisoning?), maybe just cut it out entirely.
  • I’m not asking for perfection in level design, but perhaps consult an engineer or someone who has spent at least ten minutes on a construction site when designing your maps. Sure that huge dam looks great, but it’s surrounded by mountains on every side—how the heck did they get the trucks there to pour the cement? Somehow I don’t think the cement trucks could walk along the power lines the way the main character does.
  • Of course, since the whole point of the expedition was to harness a weird new power source (which they do successfully), why even build the dam in the first place!?
  • The time dilation thing makes no damned sense, and a lot of the dates don’t add up. How long was Aelita on the planet alone? Even if your faster-than-light engine had zero time dilation, it was at least 60 years. Possibly much, much, much longer. So she’s a superhero and immortal? Or… what’s up with that. And she didn’t heal the planet in all that time because… she’s a jerk? Too stupid to work the puzzles, maybe?
  • And are we supposed to believe that the main character’s wife stayed on life support waiting for him to come back for literally thousands of years?

Sorry buddy. You tried for Twilight Zone and ended up with M. Night. Shaymalan. You tried for Dear Esther or Brothers, and ended up with Duke Nukem Forever.

Better luck next time.

Halo 4 missed opportunities and beefs

SPOILERS AHOY! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 

 

 

 

 

Missed Opportunities:

  • The UNSC alliance with Covenant only lasts a fraction of one game? Lame. Let’s see SPARTANs fighting alongside Elites. Let’s see Ghosts dropping from Pelicans. Why not? If you add in the increased sleep delay (proposed below), then you can have Pelicans equipped with grav-lifts or Grunts with frag grenades. Again, why not?
  • Not bringing Cortana back to her Halo 1 not-a-sex-doll appearance. At one point Halo was progressive, now it has the same sexist graphics as in every other game, and just reinforces all the negative stereotypes about game developers. Remember back when Halo had two prominent female leads, and neither was a sex doll? Sigh. Those were the days.
  • I wanted more of Dr. Halsey talking about the ethical implications of the SPARTAN-II project. A segment of that in front of every segment of gameplay; as she lays down her defense, a flashback reinforces it. Not only does this put her story up-front (which is pretty interesting), but it helps newcomers to the Halo series get an idea of what’s happened in previous games and who this Master Chief John-117 actually is. Her defense should be convincing, but so should the counter-argument, and the game should leave her fate to the player to decide. (As-is, Halsey gets a complete pass because it turns out her actions were all somehow telepathically controlled by the Forerunner Librarian AI. Ugh.)

Beefs:

  • Master Chief was asleep for only a few years. When he wakes up, Captain del Rio (designated bad guy) makes a point of telling him he’s an “aging” SPARTAN. Why? Because he’s like maybe 3 years older than the other SPARTANs on board? Ridiculous.

    Better would have been to have the sleep last for 15-20 years, which gives time for a real new generation of SPARTANS, gives more time for humanity to build a ship like the Infinity, gives more time for the Covenant alliance to either survive or break down, etc. In this alternate, saying John-117 is obsolete makes a lot more sense.

  • The Forerunner Librarian “evolving” a champion over thousands of years to help against the Didact is retarded. Her motive for using the Master Chief should be much, much more simple and down-to-earth: she just needs his MJOLNIR armor because it’s a portable computer large enough to carry the “unlock code” for the Composer. There, now you can have the same story but none of the “fate-driven” fantasy bullshit. I got enough of that in Skyrim.
  • The Forerunner Librarian just appears in a “digital hallucination” (or something) and lays out the entire story. Ugh. Better ideas:

    The Librarian takes advantage of Cortana’s rampant state and inserts her instructions to Master Chief into Cortana’s memory. You can have the exact same scene, but with Cortana explaining it all and not introduce a new character.

    The Librarian inserts herself into Cortana’s memory, but instead of explaining it in a single long cut-scene that lays out the whole story, Cortana says bits and pieces of the story as she goes into her rampant state. This way the player has to actually use their brain to piece together what’s happening in the game. Yes, gamers have brains.

  • Why the debate with del Rio as to whether the Infinity should stay and attack the Didact or leave for home? We already know the Infinity’s MAC guns can harm the Didact’s satellite. We know the Infinity has a large and presumably highly-capable crew (meaning: they can do more than one thing at a time.) And we know the Didact’s satellite rested only a short Pelican flight away from where the Infinity landed. So…

    Why not tell Master Chief, “hey, Chief, here’s the deal: you take out the gravity vortex holding us here, and we’ll fire the crap out of all our MACs at the Didact on the way out. If we don’t kill it in our volley, you can drop out in a Pelican with a few volunteers of your choosing and stay behind to finish the job. Deal?”

    But then del Rio wouldn’t be the designated villain.

  • Speaking of taking out the Didact, when his satellite was resting in its “recharge bay” or whatever that was, why were the computers running the defense program defended by Phantoms? The Covenant have fighters! Why not use fighters to defend an air asset against air incursions! Ugh.
  • Cortana being cloned form Halsey’s DNA is the dumbest thing ever written. I kept waiting for her to say “just kidding, you dope” but alas this plot-point is actually treated seriously by the script.

I’m slightly over halfway though the game.

Since people keep asking– my new computer specs

Hardware:
Case: CoolerMaster Silencio 550 Gaming Case – Black
Processor: Intel Core i5-2500K Processor (4x 3.30GHz/6MB L3 Cache)
Processor Cooling: Liquid, 120mm fan
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z68AP-D3
Memory: 8 GB [2 GB X4] DDR3-1600
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti – 1GB
Power Supply: Thermaltake TR2 TRX-750M
Primary Hard Drive: Plextor PX-256M2S
Secondary Hard Drive: 500 GB (spinning) Hard Drive
Optical Drive: 24X Dual Format/Double Layer DVD±R/±RW + CD-R/RW Drive

OS:
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate
Windows Performance Score: 7.5
Processor: 7.5
Memory: 7.7
Graphics: 7.8
Gaming Graphics: 7.8
Hard Disk: 7.9
(Keep in mind the scale maxes out at 7.9. Good thing Windows 8 is coming out soon…)

Accessories:
Primary Monitor: Dell 22″ 1920×1080
Secondary Monitor: Dell 20″ 1680×1050
Keyboard: Microsoft Comfort Curve 2000. (I love these things; I literally have 2 spares in my closet.) (Discontinued; links goes to Comfort Curve 3000)
Mouse: Cyborg RAT 5. (I love this thing. I should buy a spare.)
Game Controller: Microsoft Xbox 360 wireless controller, with the little USB wireless dongle thing for Windows use
Speakers: Logitech 2.1 system, looks like the Z323 or the preceding model perhaps?
Webcam: Logitech C910, full HD
Headset: Logitech USB, looks like the H530 or the preceding model?
Digicam: Panasonic Lumix LX-5, nothing to do with the computer system but I gotta brag.

The SSD I grabbed out of my old computer. (Which, BTW, is fully functional, it lacks only a HD– and I have a spare. I should really put it back together and donate it to someone.)

I agonized over whether to upgrade to an i7 processor or not. In the end, I figured my old computer’s CPU usage never went above about 66%, even when playing Skyrim, so I cheaped-out and got the i5 instead. Maybe I’ll regret this after Windows 8 is out, we’ll see.

The rest of the equipment comes complete, assembled, and tested from iBuyPower. Their customer service and ordering process is great, the build quality of the machine looks pretty damned good to me. I can’t comment yet on how long it’ll hold up, since it’s only a few days old, but they also throw in a 3-year warranty so that’s pretty nice. Also you can order without an OS.

There. Now you know. So stop asking.

Metro 2033 mini-review

(Some spoilers below.)

The Good:

  • The entire concept of basing a game on an intelligent popular book (that isn’t a pen and paper RPG sourcebook) is a great idea, and I hope more companies do this in the future instead of basing their games on crappy dumb action movies.
  • This game is scary as shit. The all-in-your-mind sequences are incredible. The gas mask sequences actually made me feel like I was suffocating (I’m not kidding; when the filter was nearly gone, I stopped playing, and hid my character in a corner until he replaced it.) The introduction to the game, with the zoom out from the photograph of the beautiful untouched city, revealing that it’s just a post card in a dingy tiny apartment built into the side of a subway tunnel is brilliant. The phone suddenly ringing in the military base abandoned for 20 years after you restore power is amazingly creepy. (No, you can’t answer it.) When the companions with you start going kind of crazy, even the extremely with-it Rangers, that’s also amazingly creepy. The ghost sequence was brilliant.
  • Despite that, it can also be uplifting at times, in fact at just the perfect times when you were just about to put the game away because the setting is so goddamned depressing.
  • The sequence where a little kid is riding your back, which completely screws up your aim, is amazing. I loved everything about it. Especially the ending. (See the previous point.)
  • The game engine and level designs allows you to go through the entire game without killing a single human if you so choose. I think this should be standard practice, frankly.
  • The dual endings, represented by two characters in the game. Hunter (“if it’s hostile, kill it”), and Khan (“To break this vicious circle one must do more than act without any thought or doubt”). I was originally going to complain about how this was implemented, but then I realized: I think they did the right thing. The catch is, the game doesn’t hand-hold you into either ending (think of a Bioware game where dialog options are clearly labeled for what ending they contribute to). The only (minor) problem is that the game has no indication that there are multiple endings at all… but then again, the “good” ending is supposed to be for that rare player who really explores the game world in detail and does things a little different, and that’s basically what happens now.
  • One of the characters plays a practical joke on you that’s genuinely funny. Humor is hard in video games. Especially localized versions of video games. Especially video games as dark and gritty as this one.
  • The improvised weapons and flashlight were great. I liked the way you had to recharge the battery (or pneumatic weapon) during your free moments, or God help you when you run into the enemy later on and the battery’s dead.

The Bad:

  • The escort missions aren’t very clearly labeled as escort missions, so you’re likely to lose the first one simply because you don’t realize that the guy you were supposed to be escorting doesn’t have infinite health like the rest of the Rangers with you at the time. This might be a localization problem.
  • The second escort mission involves a hallway full of slime monsters. The only way to win this mission is to shoot the monster nests- but since the game gives no indication you can do that, you either end up accidentally shooting one or finally ask a friend, “how did you beat that damn level?”
  • Additionally, when the slime monsters explode, your framerate goes to shit, making it nearly-impossible to keep playing. (In fact, monsters in the game always have kind of a herky-jerky motion. I’m not sure whether that’s a stylistic choice, a quirk of the game engine, or something specific to my particular computer.)
  • There’s exactly one named female character in the game. She’s a prostitute. She steals all your stuff. No Besthesda-esque equal-opportunity bandits in this game.
  • Quick time events. Ugh. Fortunately, you can easily predict when they’re coming, they all use the same key, and they aren’t in the middle of 5 minute long cutscenes. Hey game industry: nobody likes quick time events.
  • The monsters are generic; they look like they came out of the “discount Doom 3 monster rip-off bin”. (Doom 3 was an awful game, but it sure influences the hell out of monster design in video games.) Plus, demons (in an otherwise realistic game) are proportioned all wrong for flight, and way too small to be able to tip over an armored 4×4 truck.
  • The ghost sequence was brilliant, but it would have been nice to get another one, one without a guide where you have to get through using your own wits. Yes, one of “the bad” is, “there wasn’t enough of this great level!”

The summary:

This game is excellent and I recommend playing it and I regret not playing through it earlier.

Let’s talk about Skyrim bugs

Bethesda, I love you guys. I love Skyrim. But it’s fucking buggy as shit, and it’s bugging the shit out of me. Mainly because I have the weird type of OCD that requires me to finish every quest in a RPG, and your bugs make it impossible to finish a lot of Skyrim quests.

Before we start, some basics:

  1. I’m playing Skyrim on PC, the Steam distribution of the game.
  2. These bugs are all from my second play-through. My first was actually quite a bit more buggy than this one.
  3. This game was started before the November 30th patch, but the bugs still exist after the patch. (This may be normal. I know frequently patch fixes only apply to new games.)
  4. This list is ridiculously incomplete. I’ll try to add to it as new bugs arise.

Beware! Spoilers below!

Stuck Quests:

  • (Misc) “Go to Dorian in Solitude and pick up the item” – Dorian is inside a ship, doesn’t exit. When you go inside the ship to talk to him, he says only “you shouldn’t be in here” and doesn’t engage in conversation. (Edit: Managed to complete this quest; see Michael’s comment.)
  • (Misc) “Return to Esbern” – Esbern has been broken most of this game (and most of my last play-through). He won’t engage me in conversation. I believe this quest is supposed to lead up to the potion Esbern gives you to help fight dragons, so I can’t get that buff this play-through. (And for those who have played through the main quest, no the state of the quest “Paarthurnax” doesn’t have anything to do with Esbern’s broken-ness… he’s busted either way.) (On another note, this is my second play-though, and Esbern has been ridiculously broken both times. It’s actually hard to tell when Esbern’s busted, because I have no idea how he’s supposed to work!) Guys, the NPCs required for the main quest are broken!
  • (Misc) “Ask Esbern about dragon lairs” – Since Esbern’s busted, I can’t turn this one in, either.
  • (Misc) “Visit the college of Winterhold” – Quest points to Nirya, who is standing in Winterhold (not in the college), and only has one dialog option which does not complete the quest.
  • (Misc) “Investigate the Bards College” – Quest points to Viarmo, who has two dialog options, neither of which complete the quest.
  • (Misc) “Disrupt the skooma operation” – Quest points to a cave, Cragslane Cavern, where illegal dog fights were taking place. Every NPC in the cave is dead, but the quest isn’t marked as completed. If killing every single skooma dealer in the city doesn’t “disrupt the operation”, I don’t know what would!
  • (Misc) “Kill the bandit leader at Broken Helm Hollow” – The objective pointer points to the wrong location.
  • (Misc) “Purchase a house in Windhelm” – Apparently this quest cannot be completed after joining the Imperial faction, but remains in my quest log all the same. The steward says only that there has been some trouble and the house is not available.
  • (Misc) “Speak to Verulus about the Hall of the Dead” – Verulus is dead.
  • (Misc) “Collect bounty from Brina Merilis” – This is a weird one: this quest can’t be selected! As opposed to the Svidi quest, where it can be selected but there’s no objective arrow, this one simply can’t be selected at all. Weird.
  • (Misc) “Assist the people of Haafinger (5/5)” – As you can see from the quest’s name, I’ve completed it by assisting 5 people in that region. And yet, the quest hasn’t been marked as completed, and nothing I do can complete it.

Weird Stuff:

  • A character named only “Khajit” wearing orcish armor and attacking with magic attacked me for no apparent reason. He had no bounty notes on him, and nothing identifying what organization he was affiliated with. Maybe not a bug?
  • My character got stuck mining a Corumdum Ore Vein for… well a very long time without actually producing any ore or gems. When I finally cancelled the ore mining, the rock face wasn’t mine-able anymore (but it also wasn’t depleted.)
  • In a cut-scene as part of the main quest, Alduin is supposed to appear but didn’t. The other characters involved just stared dumbly in the direction he was supposed to show up for about 4-5 minutes before I gave up on it. I ended up having to re-load my game and start the cut-scene over again. Guys, the cut-scenes in the main quest are broken.
  • Characters occasionally appear buck-naked (well, wearing underwear), when (I presume) they’re supposed to be clothed. One of these characters was the Courier.
  • After the end of the civil war quest line, you’re instructed to destroy camps of the opposing faction as you come across them. Despite this, the commander of those camps are still set as non-killable, and so it’s impossible to actually clear the camps.
  • After completing The Forsworn Conspiracy and escaping Cidna Mine, Markarth guards stay stuck in quest mode and won’t let you pay your bounty in the normal way. It gets worse – if you tell the guards to take you to Cidna Mine, they won’t. Instead they just immediately arrest you again and again. This bug makes Markarth practically inaccessible.
  • The treasure that goes with Treasure Map X does not exist on my game. This drove me nuts, I spent something like a half-hour looking for it before Googling for a walkthrough… turns out it just doesn’t exist in my little Skyrim.
  • Oghma Infinium disappeared after being read – this makes it impossible to achieve the “Oblivion Walker” achievement, as only 14 Daedric Artifacts exist in my game world. (There are 16 total; one of them, Skull of Corruption can be destroyed based on your choices during the quest.) Edit: Researching this some more, the book is supposed to disappear when you use it! But on the other hand, the UESP blog says “Using the book before acquiring all Daedric Artifacts will not break the Oblivion Walker achievement. It will still count toward the 15 required.” So obviously this is another bug. (Needless-to-say, using the console to add the item doesn’t work, as it marks that save game as “invalid for achievements”.)

Graphical Glitches:

  • Khajit sideburns clip through helmets, which is hilarious:

Utterly Inexplicable Design Decisions:

  • Unlike every other Elder Scrolls game, Hand-To-Hand is not a first-class skill. It has no perks, and it doesn’t contribute to leveling. Despite this, it’s got its own custom animations, it’s even used as a persuade option. So the game’s pretty bi-polar on this!
  • Quest items cannot be dropped or stored in chests. Which is fine except… they also have weight! Sometimes they are quite heavy. This reduces the amount of items you can carry as your inventory is full of useless undroppable items. (Special bonus goes to dragon claws, where each dungeon requires a specific one, and figuring out which is quite a challenge when you’re holding 6-7 of them.) Especially egregious, because (correct me if I’m wrong) this wasn’t an issue in Oblivion.
  • The guy who’s famous all over Skyrim for winning a war and personally killing a dozen dragons still gets attacked by bandits wearing hide armor. I know people didn’t like the auto-leveling NPCs in Oblivion, but this is ridiculous—better would be the bandits trying to bribe you to leave them alone, or simply running when you approach. Either would still give the player the desired sense of badass-ness.

Game launchers, amirite?

Remember when you could just double-click the icon for your game and be playing right away?

I just ran an inventory, and I have eight games installed on my computer (the oldest being Overlord II, Oblivion, meaning they’re all newish), and six of them have launchers. Let’s take a look (as always, click to enhugeify):



Sony’s DC Universe Online



Hi-Rez studios, makers of Global Agenda and Tribes Ascend



Ubisoft’s Might & Magic Heroes VI*

Special added super-bonus: it crashed in the 45 seconds it took me to open the window and take a screenshot!



Blizzard’s World of Warcraft

There’s certainly a pattern forming here:

  1. Either a non-rectangular window shape, or (what we in the Mac Classic era used to call) a “borderless” window. None are resizeable, and finding a “handle” with which to change the window’s position is difficult.
  2. No standard Windows controls in sight! Forget that they’re well-designed, have been tested to rock-solidness over 20 years, and are instantly readable. Not good enough. Only the WOW launcher deigns so much to have menus.
  3. Everybody loves black. “Make the background black”, the designers say, “it’ll make us stand out!” Look at how much those launchers stand out! Color schemes are either black with offensively-colored call-to-actions (Hi-Rez, WOW), or just plain offensive all-around (DC Universe Online).
  4. The primary purpose of the launcher seems to be “buy downloadable shit!” (Or, in a noble exception for WOW, “watch a TV commercial!”) Sure, the launcher also patches the relevant game, but that is obviously a tiny, secondary concern.
  5. 75% of the launchers have creepy people/things staring at you. (Maybe 100%, depending on what the Tribes dudes are looking at under those helmets.)

Now that we have the pattern down, let’s look at the last two:



Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion



Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

What… what are these? They’re actually… tasteful? They’re not offensively-colored, or animated, or trying to sell me some worthless downloadable junk (and yes, both games have downloadable content for sale)? There’s no Twitter feeds, no Facebook links, no social features of any kind? The options presented are actually all relevant to the actual game itself? Nothing creepy staring into my soul?

Of course you still have to ask, “why do these launchers exist?” (Actual answer: because PCs don’t have a unified way to handle installing/uninstalling content packs and mods, and console versions don’t have advanced rendering settings necessary on PC, and thus the PC version needs a UI for those things somewhere, and they didn’t want to put it in the actual game because then the Xbox and PC versions of the game code would diverge too much. It’s a good reason, but still an compromise that makes for a worse product.)

So what is the lesson we have learned? Fuck if I know. Maybe, “launchers are only present for games that are trying to nickel-and-dime you to death, or bad console ports.” Maybe, “don’t have creepy things staring at the guy trying to play your game, sheesh.” Or maybe even, “Sony sucks.”

I think it’s really, “details matter.”

 

*) Note: the name is no longer “Heroes of Might & Magic”, it is now “Might & Magic Heroes”. So in addition to a awful launcher, it breaks alphabetization on my Steam games list. Yes, I also complain about the first DOOM showing up in Steam as “Ultimate Doom” and thus is near the U’s instead of D’s. Details matter, people. Pay attention to the details.

Obvious bugs in Valve’s Steam client

Don’t get too excited, this isn’t a full blog entry, just a quick list of obvious bugs:

  • Font sizes are too small and there is no ability to enlarge them. Additionally, Steam doesn’t work properly with Windows DPI settings, so fonts can’t be enlarged the usual way.
  • Cloud data can’t be browsed or deleted except through a support ticket. If you are in an environment with limited space (an SSD drive), and download a game with large saves (Oblivion), Steam forces you to also download the cloud data content for that game– even if there are multiple gigabytes of it.
  • Pre-ordered games don’t have a scheduler to “unencrypt” their files when (or slightly before, ideally) the game is released. Since the “unencryption” can take a significant amount of time, half an hour or more, this forces gamers excited to play their new game to wait before playing– even if the game has been pre-loaded on the computer, and even if the release date was hours and hours ago.
  • Categories: Once you’ve created a category, you can never rename or delete it. Ever. You can’t make subcategories. You can’t drag&drop games into categories. You can’t assign a category to a dozen games at a time. There are no auto-generated categories (for example, game genre.) There’s no way to turn on/off category display in the list of games (except that categories aren’t displayed in Grid View, for some reason). The feature as implemented is very, very weak.
  • Remote install: A nice feature, but you can only install games you’ve purchased. This means you can’t remotely install free-to-play games because you can’t purchase them.

In general, Steam has a habit of half-specifying features (or fully-specifying them and only half-implementing them), and then never ever ever fixing them. For the font size issue, I’m hoping eventually a disabled rights groups gets on their ass about it, but for the other bugs I don’t see much hope.

Although it is worth noting that Steam support representatives have the capability to clear-out cloud data for a specific title for a specific user. If Valve had enough support requests to do this, they might finally add a self-service option just to save the labor costs.

My great ideas

A quick series I did on Twitter:

SOMEONE PAY ME A MILLION BUCKS FOR ALL MY GREAT IDEAS

Here’s great idea number 1: Tail warmers for furries who wear fake tails during winter months

Here’s great idea number 2: Ad campaign where man opens woman’s Coke to make it go flat as a prank, copy “I popped her Cherry Coke!”

Here’s great idea number 3: RFID chips for wigs, so bald men can tell if their wigs are on straight without a mirror a’la Surface tables

Here’s great idea number 4: An adapter to let game-addicted kids drive their parents old beater car using an Xbox/Playstation controller

Here’s great idea number 5: A closet-sized dryer so consumers don’t have to separately dry and stack their clothes

Here’s great idea number 6: A sitcom entitled “Hex for the Memories” about a witch who has amnesia moving in with a psychologist

Here’s great idea number 7: Movie promotional stunt, fill a subway car full of pyro effects and run though crowded station at full speed

Here’s great idea number 8: A web forum that only allows drawings, no text. (Instead of textarea, you get HTML5 drawing tools.)

Here’s great idea number 9: Jason Bourne vs. Godzilla

Here’s great idea number 10: Another moon shot, while there build little Smurf villages to confuse the heck out of future generations

THIS CONCLUDES MY GREAT IDEAS.

Review: Duke Nukem Forever

Yes, seriously.

It’s really hard to review this game, because it’s really just middling in every way except one: it’s just as misogynistic and artificially offensive as you’d expect a Duke Nukem game to be. There’s not a lot to call out, and there’s not a lot to get excited over. I’m not going to call-out the long development time, because you can read that in pretty much every other review of this game.

Before we get into the review proper, I should mention in all fairness that I’ve never played all of Duke Nukem 3D, except the free demo that was everywhere back in the late 90s. For this review, I played the Windows version of the game, distributed through Steam, using both Xbox 360 controller and a mouse/keyboard controls.

Duke Nukem Forever takes place in a strange alternate-reality version of Las Vegas, where Duke Nukem apparently owns every casino and restaurant in the entire city, having become rich and famous after the events of Duke Nukem 3D. The game opens, confusingly, with Duke Nukem playing, uh, Duke Nukem Forever, I guess? Playing a recreation of the end of Duke Nukem 3D? I’m not sure exactly what’s going on during that whole sequence, to be honest. The story kicks off when the aliens come back, and the President decides to begin peaceful negotiations with them, ordering Duke to stay well-away from the aliens. Meanwhile General Graves believes the aliens are up to no good again. Obviously the aliens attack again, because that’s basically the entire point of the game, and if you’ve ever played a sci-fi FPS game before, you already know exactly what happens.

The weapons include the standard FPS set (pistol, machine gun, shotgun, rocket launcher) along with a few more creative additions. There is a freeze gun, which encases an enemy in ice to smash with a melee attack. There is also the famous shrink ray. Bigger enemies become significantly less of a threat while shrunk, and smaller enemies can be stomped in their shrunken form. I generally went through the entire game with the shotgun and the rocket launcher, and found the alternate weapons weren’t particularly useful in most situations. There are also mounted weapons, which are constantly overheating.

Unfortunately, you can carry only two weapons at a time, so you frequently have to decide to drop the creative freeze ray to pick up a standard machine gun. The game shot itself in the foot with this one. Note that the two weapon limit is a game mechanic taken from Halo.

The game focuses on interacting with physics and the environment, but instead of it being part of gameplay it’s usually just in the form of “ego items” you can play with as you proceed through the game. The first of these you encounter is a turd, sitting in a toilet, which you can pick up and throw, or use to draw turd-messages on the walls. The second, and more dignified, of these toys is a whiteboard you can write whatever you want on, and erase. The best is a fully-functional pinball machine. These are a little inconsistent: if you see yourself in a mirror, you can “Admire” yourself, but if you find an action figure of yourself you can’t.

To give you a reason to play with these toys, Duke Nukem Forever ties your total hit points (called ego) to the number of toys you’ve played with. I think it’s kind of stupid for the game to tie something as pointless as dragging a turd around with something as important as your total hit points, and it’s definitely not a decision I would have made.

Your hit points/ego regenerate over time if you take cover. I mention this because it’s a game mechanic taken from Halo.

The best parts of the game are the two extended driving segments, one where you’re driving a remote control car, and another where you’re driving a monster truck. Both vehicles drive exactly how you’d expect them to, physics-wise. Blasting the remote control car over long gaps using fallen posters as ramps is great, and the four-wheel steering mode on the monster truck lets you pull off some fun stunts. The absolute best is ramming an alien with the remote control car, and watching them hop around holding their foot in pain.

Second to these are the segments where Duke is shrunken to action figure size. These generally take the form of Half-Life-esque jumping puzzles, where you have to figure out how to get tiny Duke to interact with normal-sized items like pushing an elevator button. Normally harmless enemies, like rats skittering around on the floor, are deadly threats when shrunk.

One of these segments involves a wet floor, electrified by a loose wire, where you have to determine how to loop around the room to get to the power box. I mention this because it’s basically identical to a room in Half-Life with the same premise.

Let’s talk about the humor. Duke Nukem Forever isn’t very funny. It tries. In fact it probably tries too hard. The funniest jokes are the somewhat subtle ones. For example, the physics puzzles in the game require the use of barrels to weigh-down physics objects. These barrels are labeled “F’ing Heavy, LLC”. That made me chuckle. Nothing Duke, or any of the other speaking characters, said was funny enough to note in my opinion.

The worst jokes are the jokes made at the expense of other, much better games. After seeing a discarded suit of SPARTAN armor, Duke says “armor is for pussies!” When encountering some planks covering a mine entrance, Duke snarks, “a crowbar would come in handy about now!” The problem with these jokes is not merely that they’re not particularly funny, but that they remind you of much better games. To quote Mystery Science Theater 3000, “never show a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie.” And as I mentioned above, these are games that Duke Nukem Forever took mechanics from wholesale.

Graphics: Other reviews have talked about the bad graphics, but the truth is that the game actually looks quite good with one exception: people are made from plastic. If the plastic-y look of the people only applied to the women, then I would assume it was intentional as a gag (Barbie dolls), but it applies to every character in the game, and is distracting. Landscapes and objects looked pretty good, and the frame rate remained steady.

Gameplay: The combat is unsatisfying, the levels uninspiring and sometimes annoying, and the end boss was particularly pathetic. Introduces almost no new ideas or game mechanics to the genre, which is lazy. There is a long “intermission” level in the middle of the combat levels where you have to find a stripper’s vibrator which really contributes nothing to the game, and I wonder why it was included.

Quality: I didn’t experience any game-breaking bugs, or any crashes. Additionally, this is one of the few games where alt-tab worked all the time and without any quirks. Surprisingly, I’d say Duke Nukem Forever is of significantly higher quality than most other Windows games.

Duke Nukem Forever is what it is I guess. It’s not terrible, but it’s not good. There’s definitely a place in the market for comedic first person shooters, but this just isn’t filling it.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks, “you can pick up a turd? Awesome!” then you’ll probably love this game. If you’re just a general first person shooter fan, buy it if you find it cheap or if you’re really bored. If you’re not a fan of first person shooters, give it a pass.