Prototype 2

Being a latecomer to the PS3, I hadn’t ever played the Prototype games so I didn’t know what to expect from Prototype 2. Overall the game has a lot of nice touches and is pretty fun even though it lacks mission variety.

The main thing to like about Prototype 2 is the ability to run around a city and beating up bad guys (and civilians if you want) at random. To encourage you to just wander around the game has some collectables and mini-missions hidden around the city that can give you powerups when completed. One of the nice touches is that instead of making you wander around aimlessly looking for collectable 5 out of 5, if you pull up the in-game map you can see possible locations for the collectables and mini-missions which help you locate them. But because it only shows you some possible locations in the form of radar pings you still have to hunt around a little but you have some idea where to look so it isn’t totally aimless.

While playing the game I really wished someone would make a cyberpunk-GTA clone. I guess Watch Dogs was supposed to be that but I haven’t played it and it got terrible reviews. But the ability to wander around hacking into things randomly seems appealing.

Unfortunately, Prototype 2 isn’t cyberpunk. It is basically a series of fights where you get more powers and fight bigger monsters and tons of mini-bosses. Although you eventually get a few powers, the game only lets you use 2 at a time which is disappointing. The ability to switch which 2 you are using is nice but it is weird that they don’t let you use all of them at the same time – especially since the powers are only mapped to 2 buttons…

Also unfortunate is the fact that the game only has a few basic mission types: find the monster and fight it, sneak into somewhere to kill someone then fight the monsters, timed item collection, and protect the bad guy until he can lead you to something you want. The game tries to switch it up by making you wonder who to trust and things like that but this mostly happens in non-interactive cutscenes which makes me kind of uninterested and at least partially ignore them.

While playing Prototype 2 I enjoyed it but looking online it seems like there isn’t any talk of a third one which is disappointing since it was fun and I would like to see what they could improve on in a sequel. However, since the studio that made the games got shut down because of poor sales it seems unlikely that Prototype 3 will be coming any time soon.

five thumbs up

never played the first
but Prototype 2 was fun
there will be no more.

Legendary Blandness

LegendaryLegendary is a pretty generic FPS game with some odd things in its design that really make it hard to enjoy. First of all, even for a game released in 2008 it looks really dated. Wikipedia claims it uses the Unreal 3 engine but it really doesn’t look like it.


For example, here’s a clip from Gears of War, released for PC in 2007:

Now compare this to Legendary:

Now Gears of War probably had a much bigger team and the difference isn’t all that large but it is noticeable.


I also post this video to point out a design choice the Legendary team made that is really hard to understand. That Legendary video is the second part of the walkthrough after you watch an obligatory intro movie that sets up the premise and the game is still telling you things like “hold left shift to sprint.” Now the thing is that the game isn’t just holding your hand for a long time and it tells you that all the time. Instead, you can’t run or jump until the game decides to introduce the mechanic to you. In the first couple minutes of the game there was something in the way that I wanted to jump over but hitting the space bar didn’t do anything. So I assumed that you couldn’t jump in the game. Then just a couple minutes later the game decides to allow you to start jumping. You can jump from then on but why in the world would you disable the ability to jump for the first few minutes of the game? It isn’t like there are any cliffs you can fall over or something. It is just ponderous.

Another weird design choice is that early in the game pretty much the only monsters are these lava creatures. It gets really monotonous. Then they switch to something else and they never use that monster again. That  just seems weird. There’s no reason why they would confine the lava creatures to just one part of the game or that they wouldn’t mix it up more. They just don’t.

Gameplay-wise, the game reminded me a lot of old-school SiN and I’m not really sure why. Maybe it is because killing the lava creatures often requires turning on water to put their fire out and stuff like that. Even though SiN is ten years older I think I had more fun playing it. Of course I’m ten years older too so that might have something to do with it…

There are some boss battles which are pretty standard and a partner who is largely on the radio (like SiN and a million other games). Then the end is basically incredibly anticlimactic.

Two thumbs down

Legendary, huh?
Legendarily bad, right?
Or just kind of blaah…


Assassinate DRM and ports…

I played the first Assassin’s Creed back when it came out and liked it well enough. I just never got around to buying the others. A couple months ago there was a sale on steam and I picked up Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations. I’m playing through 2 and I’m enjoying it but drm is still terrible and it is a bad port.

Although the game is on Steam, it still uses the crappy Uplay drm which requires it to launch the Uplay program thingy. Only it won’t launch on Windows 8 when you try to start it through Steam.

OK, fine. I can just launch it directly through the Uplay thing, right? Of course not. When you try to do that it says it is launching steam or something but that doesn’t work either.

So play the game I bought, I have to launch Steam, then launch the Uplay application which I had to enable running as administrator, then go back to Steam and start the game, which makes the Uplay thing flash in the taskbar so before the game starts I have to click on Uplay to give it focus and then the game will start.


So once I get the games started it runs fine. Only, instead of telling you to press the left mouse button or the E key or whatever, it shows you a picture of an open hand, or a closed hand, or a foot, or something else. assassinscreed2controlsAnd the background of the icons clearly have the Xbox button colors which probably indicate which controller button you need to press.

So to be able to tell the different between a picture of a head and a picture of a head with a tiny little up arrow in front of it, in addition to the process mentioned above, I also have to open up a picture of the controls to put on my second monitor to know what buttons I’m supposed to be pressing…

Thanks Ubisoft…



The Daily Almanac of Videogame History now available

For the past few months I’ve been working on a non-academic side project: a one-fact-a-day book about videogames. I call it The Daily Almanac of Videogame History and now I’ve put it up for sale on amazon for 99¢.

The Daily Almanac of Videogame History

I found one videogame-related fact for each day of the year (including one for Leap Day). Wherever possible I tried to cite everything from primary sources and I tried to highlight the strange or weird videogame-related things instead of just release dates (although there are some of those too) so although there web sites with similar “Today in Videogame History” themes I think mine is not only more accurate but has a different focus.

Strange items include a Judge who banned a kid from playing videogames, a town that only legalized arcade games a few years ago, and a Japan-only Xbox game called “N.U.D.E.”

Now I don’t have an excuse not to be working on my academic stuff. Although I could work on a sequel…

A Call of Duty edition of Newsweek?

I was in the grocery store Monday and decided I would check out the magazine rack. I was surprised to see a magazine devoted to Call of Duty with the Newsweek logo on it:


While there have been special issues of magazines for specific videogames before and whenever someone famous dies it seems like there are special “tribute to X Collector’s Edition” magazines on the stands just days later, it seems weird that Newsweek would be the one to have their name attached to this. Of course, because I love gaming magazines I had to buy it, so I guess the combination worked.

blogroll updated

As promised  I’ve updated the blogroll over on the right. I would have done it earlier but I got caught up in rolling around in all that darpa money that digra gets in their think tank which employs tons of people…

blogroll pruned

I’ve deleted some of the links in the blogroll over in the sidebar.As someone who is having a hard time finding a job, I can’t blame some of the people if they have left academic game studies since I might have to be doing it myself (of course it seems more like academia leaving me than me leaving academia…) Regardless, it did hurt to delete some of those links but if they haven’t updated since 2012 I have to assume the site isn’t being updated any more. I’ll be adding some new links in the days ahead.


Analog keyboards and rumble mice

Back in December I got a PS3 for the first time and more recently I’ve been working on a side project that involves looking at a bunch of gaming stuff from the 90s. Recently these two interests have combined in a way that made me think about the lack of progress in the way pc games are played. Ever since the Atari 5200 came out with a different controller than the Atari 2600 it has become common for console controllers to change with each new console. Most of the time the new controllers don’t just look different but they add in new/different features. Some of those features then go on to become more or less universally adopted.

This really isn’t the case with pc gaming. Aside from incremental improvements such as using a laser instead of a ball in a mouse, the mouse and keyboard for the earliest computers isn’t really all that different than modern ones. Sure, mechanical switches are the hot thing now but those are really just coming back. No matter how many leds and lcd screens they add to a keyboard or mouse it is still basically the same and doesn’t really change your gaming experience.

There was a time, however, when there was more experimentation on pc controllers. There were controllers that basically tried to make the keyboard more comfortable like The Claw, the Wolfking Warrior, the Z-board which offered replaceable keyboards for a specific game, or the Razer Orbweaver and similar products but all of these are just putting buttons in the different spots.

My research reminded me of one controller that tried to have analog movement: the Spaceorb 360.

Spaceorb 360

I remember when this came out and while it seemed like a cool idea, I never saw one in person. Unsurprisingly it failed because it was weird looking. (a somewhat similar looking controller was the Microsoft Sidewinder Dual Strike but it used the ball thing to look and not move like the Spaceorb). Apparently the Spaceorb has its fans since someone made an Arduino interface to make it work with modern versions of Windows. The thing that is appealing about the Spaceorb is something I’ve wanted in pc games for a long time: variable speed. How nice would it be in a FPS to be able to easily be able to control how fast you move? Here’s what I want: analog keys on a keyboard. Maybe just for WASD or whatever but imagine keys that would work like triggers on a controller where you could push them down a little to go slowly and all the way to run. I know it might make the clicky keys weird but surely they could just put in a potentiometer or something on the keys to measure how far down the keys were pressed without making them feel different.

Running across the Spaceorb reminded me of the other old control device that never took off but seemed really cool: the rumble mouse. Logitech released a couple different kinds of these over the years. The first was the Logitech Wingman Force Feedback Mouse. Check out the video of how this thing works:

Maybe it is just me but it seems like it would be pretty cool to have a mouse that could do that. Unfortunately, to make it work the mouse was apparently attached to the pad which meant you couldn’t really move it very far.

The other line of force feedback mice Logitech came out with was the iFeel mice which looked like regular mice. I never used either of these but I would imagine that the iFeel didn’t have as much movement as the Wingman because it wasn’t attached to a mouse pad. It was, however, apparently useful outside of gaming as it could be used to rumble when you moved the mouse over a link, a window border, or something else. That seems like it would be kind of neat and could come in handy when trying to move your mouse to just the right spot to resize a window or move a text box border. Unfortunately, like the Spaceorb, the rumble mouse also failed to catch on.

However, it has been more than a decade since the rumble mouse was released and nearly twenty years since the analog controller so I think it is time for someone to try these ideas again. Come on Razer or Das Keyboard and give me a keyboard with analog keys and a rumble mouse! (seriously, give me one because I’m poor and couldn’t afford to buy them if they came out).

Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

One of the weird things about Wolfenstein: The New Order is that apparently it is a sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein and 2009’s Wolfenstein (which I didn’t even know existed. and seems to be out of print since even used copies are going for over $70 and I can’t find it digitally distributed anywhere). Since this game takes place in an alternate timeline, it seems strange that they would make it in continuity with these other games (if that is the case). Even if it is a sequel, there’s nothing in it that marks it as such and the game is a pretty fun experience with a few other weird things thrown in along the way.

Most of the weird things about the game are elements that it carries over from the original Wolfenstein 3D such as the ability to eat dog food to gain back health and the collecting of hidden gold which doesn’t seem to really have any impact on anything as far as I can tell. These overtly game-y elements clash with this story which goes to some length to show the cruelties of war in general and the Nazis in particular (spoilers: the Nazis were not nice.)

That ludonarrative dissonance extends to things like having to hit “E” to pick things up which is a real pain when you have to pick things up all the time because enemies drop bits of armor as you hurt them. While the trope of picking up armor, health, and bullets didn’t really strike me as clashing with the storyline because they are conveniences, having to hammer “E” really did because it was an inconvenience.

Another weird aspect is the perk system which adds a bit of RPG to it. It is weird because you level up from doing things but the perks are automatically applied to a stat boost so you can’t pick a skill to improve. So you get better at doing the things you are already doing which seems kind of pointless. I only played the game through once so I don’t know how being better at something else really changes the game.

(Similarly, there is a point where the story branches and since I only played it the one time I don’t know if the different paths are really all that different. )

Perhaps the worst part of the game are the boss battles which don’t really vary from the old “hit the boss in one place then another” or “wait for the boss to expose its weakness before shooting it.” Thankfully it does refrain from the worst boss battle sin of having to nearly kill the boss only to have the boss regenerate and then have to kill it again and again.

While the gameplay does have some of these quirks, it is otherwise pretty solid FPS that has a nice variety of shooting and more stealthy things like crawling through conveniently man-sized vents, hiding from security cameras, and stealth. Likewise, the storyline of a world where the Nazis won is pretty well done. Many people have noted the Bioshock Infinite-style alt-universe covers of pop songs and there are some interesting bits where you will see an obviously pro-Nazi-biased newspaper clipping about how wonderful things are under Nazi rule.

The strongest part for me was the part where you have to infiltrate a prison camp. I really liked going around and getting quests from different prisoners. It reminded me of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay which isn’t surprising since this Wolfenstein: The New Order was apparently made by many of the same people who made the Riddick game.

Unfortunately, the prison level also results in trivializing the experience of concentration camps and prisoner of war camps because you end up escaping from it the same day you get there which makes it seem like the prisoners are clueless weaklings incapable of doing it themselves. It ends up giving the message that “all it took was a real man.” There was a moment when I thought the game was really going to force you to work in a prison factory but that lasts all of about two minutes. It would have been a really brave and interesting game if they had forced you to do some meaningless button mashing for a while. Of course, it also would have been a very different game, as well.

Another plot point that borders on venturing into problematic territory is the existence of a secret Jewish society called Da’at Yichud.

Some minor spoilers here….  See, the reason why the Nazis have robot dogs and moon bases and stuff if because they stole it all from Da’at Yichud. The problem is that this concept of a secret society with super-science risks perpetuating stereotypes that Jews are secretly holding out on the rest of us and maybe they are controlling things behind the scenes. As a plot point, they use it as a simple way to explain why the bad guys have robots and moon bases in the 60s but by making it a secret jewish society it gives the Nazis a kind of justification for their genocide. It doesn’t go that far but it does border on it which makes me wish it had just been a multi-ethnic secret society or something in order to sidestep those kinds of issues.

Regardless, I had fun playing Wolfenstein: New Order because it is a decent shooter, the Nazis winning WWII is an interesting premise which gives the game to have some purely evil bad guys (the scene on the train is a standout) and it is quite long for a modern game so even though there is no multiplayer you do get your money’s worth.

five thumbs up

“B.J.” Blazkowicz
Saves the world in the end but
he is no Doom Guy