Shuffling Noises

What Are You Playing?


Decided to bump the piece I had scheduled for today to next week, since so many people I’d like to respond to it are busy at GDC right now. In the meantime, I’m always interested in what people are playing, why they like it, and what they’re looking forward to.

Personally, I’m still playing the boardgame Arkham Horror and the latest Zelda with my wife, as well as finishing up my revisit of Valkyria Chronicles and playing either the interminable campaign of Descent: Road to Legend (which I am finally enjoying) or Darkwind on Boy’s Night. We also sneak in some Storage, Inc, which is a classy multiplayer forklift game that no-one has heard of (it’s rotting away on the 360’s “community” pipe, which is a shame). It’s striking how much of my game money goes to hobby game maker Fantasy Flight these days – much more than goes on videogames.

I might critique Skyward Sword when we finish it (it’s been a long time since I critiqued a game!), and I was thinking about talking a little about Valkyria Chronicles at some point but I suspect too few people have played it to make this productive. Really enjoyed revisiting this game, though – after Front Mission 3, my favourite stat-RPG. The watercolour style of the CANVAS engine is a thing of beauty, and the mechanics offer a much greater focus on battle strategy over character advancement. In fact, it has the most restrained advancement mechanics I’ve encountered – compelling with almost no micromanagement. It’s representational choices are also interesting, and surprisingly successful. This is the only PS3 exclusive boxed product I rate, although it’s wildly unsuited to most players tastes! Definitely a grand folly.

As for looking forward to, I’m excited to have picked up Innsmouth Horror while in the States in February, and really looking forward to trying the new investigators and battling the final set of Ancient Ones. Beyond that I’m just waiting for The Last Guardian to finally be finished. I’m also looking for a good puzzle game, but everything that comes down the pipe is quite poor. Critter Crunch had promise but was terribly overdesigned. Don’t add a new mechanic every level, work on your core mechanics and make sure you have a mode for everyone. The absence of a useful sprint or marathon mode in this game is pure incompetence. The success of Tetris is not a fluke – learn from it.

What about you? What are you playing? Why do you like it? What are you looking forward to?


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Amazingly or amusingly, I'm *still* playing and enjoying World of Warcraft five years on, and it's still all about the people and the exploration. Oh, hang on, Brainhex has me tagged as a seeker/socialiser...

Well, since you asked so nicely :-)

What am I playing?
So this month - Gears of War 3. I've mainly been playing the co-op challenge mode of the campaign; but the ending was dire and of course, the storyline laughable. The team competitive modes are ok, far better than previous Gears, but have so much wasted potential by offering little of the gaming design features I want. At least there's no level up grinding nonsense though (other than cosmetics). They've also split the player base with map packs and such which has soured things. Matchmaking is a bit of a mess now too. Another one where the beta was actually better due to better weapon balance & better matchmaking (because everyone was playing the same limited modes).

Outland - another co-op challenge (which of course suits my tastes). Difficult too and very very good. I'm impatient to play more, but it's co-op partner dependent of course ;-) I like it as a single player challenge too, but I'd rather enjoy it more in co-op mode.

Portal 2 - spotting the trend here? ATM though, no co-op for me, but that's the real goal, but all the reviews and comments I've read recommend doing the 1P first so that's whay I'm going through. To me, there's nothing bad about it, but nothing especially amazing either (much like Portal 1). I like the fact I can play it for 10 mins here and there though as a backburner spare few mins kind of challenge.

Halo Reach - because it's the only competitive team FPS that has any kind of working matchmaking; although its far from perfect gaming design, it's the closest things out there in FPS land to how things "should" be done (which means StarCraft II's Battlenet as it's close to perfection for a competitive environment). Also, because I have friends that play it.

Street Fighter 2 HDR - because it's probably still my favourite competitive game ever, I can't ever see me not playing this sometimes, as long as there's good opponents to play.

Toki Toki (Android) - and also on PC, another single player "play for a few dead minutes" challenge along with Portal 2. I was impressed that it is actually challenging, rather than some pushover kids game the graphics lead you to expect. Surprisingly plays ok even on a small touchscreen, but actually much better on the PC which means I doubt I'll continue with the Android version much longer, still an interesting experiment for me, as I'd never really bothered with any mobile gaming for a long time.

What Raptr doesn't show - I've spent many hours this month on Yomi at because Raptr doesn't allow me to record this yet or auto-track it :( This 1v1 competitive game has really been getting my interest, due to my dis-interest with the rest of what's out there at the moment. I've been writing about it at and intend to write more as I play more :-)

Peter: if the community is satisfying you, why go elsewhere? WoW would never work to me - I'd end up getting obsessive - but it works well for many people.

Rik: quite a lot of titles in parallel, there... but then, a lot of co-op, which presumably pivots on the availability of friends to play with.

I've just started playing Journey, which is wonderful - hope to have a critique of this up in time for its launch. I don't manage this sort of prompt response very often, so this would make a change. :)

Best wishes!

Chris - correct, a lot of the time what I play is determined by what friends I can arrange with :)

I had a much harder time regarding what I am looking forward to.

*Fez, perhaps in the single-player challenge stakes. But really, I have plenty enough of these kinds of titles.
*Anything new co-op challenge that comes along that looks interesting to me, including replaying old stuff with new friends! :)
*StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm (all modes).
*Any output by Sirlin Games, hopefully a new fighting game that I'd actually like one day!
*If the NFL license ever gets wrestled from EAs "Madden" hands, hopefully, finally, another decent America football videogame might come along. :-/

Rik: what's gone wrong with the Madden franchise to your mind? I thought this was still a quite respected brand.

Hmm, how to summarise this... I'm not sure it's possible. :-/

Madden games have for a very long time now been filled with unrealistic outcomes, bugs, glitches, poor animations, poor game mechanics which don't represent the sport well outside of "highlight film", poor online play etc. Which they completely fail to address despite year on year iterations. It's still an "ok" facsimile of American football after all that though.

But other American football games had already far surpassed them in terms of the actual gameplay (and even aspects like presentation, graphics etc). NFL2k5, from 2004, by 2k Sports in particular, is STILL seen by many (including me) as by far the best NFL videogame ever made. There were other competing products like NFL Gameday as well.

However because after that year the NFL for some reason sold an exclusive license to produce NFL videogames to EA (presumably for a huge amount of cash), Madden became the only game in town. 2k still tried (with All Pro Football 2k8) and other ones have come along such as Backbreaker recently, but the problem is, without the marketing pull of real NFL teams and players etc, no-one else is able to realistically compete.

The difference when you compare to other sports video games fields where there IS real competition (such as soccer videogames, or baseball, or basketball) is striking. With Madden, EA clearly has no motivation than to do the bare minimum to get sales from their cashcow. However they are even becoming less successful at this, as apparently sales have been on a downturn anyway due to their lack of any kind of care (outside of soundbites and attempting to garner good press) with the franchise, despite the fact that no competition ought to mean more sales, and the NFL's popularity has grown a lot over the same time period.

TLDR: There's no competition in the American football videogame market any more, and instead there's a single (poor) game limping along.

Rik: this is a fascinating case - the exclusive license blocks any competing titles (since, as you intimate, you really *need* the team licenses) but EA are not taking care of the franchise to a sufficient degree.

It strikes me if enough players feel as you do, you could petition the NFL in this regard and make trouble for EA regarding their exclusivity license. It might be unsuccessful - it would certainly depend on how many people share your views - but licensors like the NFL tend to be very sensitive about this kind of issue since it directly affects revenues. :)

Best wishes!

Thanks, to be honest I thought this would be a rather dull topic for anyone not as passionate about the subject matter as myself ;-)

There have been various attempts at petitions and some fan-noise responses; even some firings within EA Tiburon about all of this; but there probably isn't the critical vocal mass to make a difference really. There are far more people just happy to part with their cash to play ANY version of videogame NFL football.

However you'd hope that the (reportedly) declining Madden sales ought to be a concern to both the NFL and EA. Again, there is some smoke that this is the case, but then, EA has always played the 'marketing game' well, building hype & promise for each version of Madden that comes along, that invariably turns out to be little more than a few patches & roster updates onto their existing engine; which admittedly, wouldn't look so bad if it was already great. This is actually another videogame market where I think a subscription system for constant updates would make more sense than boxed product sales, actually.

Rik: "This is actually another videogame market where I think a subscription system for constant updates would make more sense than boxed product sales, actually."

Publishers want to go this way, but resistance from gamers is the barrier. Frankly, and franchise that has annual editions - like Madden or Modern Warfare - is already operating covertly as a service, its annual subscription fee being the cost of the boxed product. You wouldn't think it would be hard to take the extra step, but gamers are so wonderfully militant about games! :)

Best wishes!

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