PC elitists now have yet another bragging point. Considering that Bloodborne ran smoothly at 30 frames per second on the PS4 (from my experience), and that Dark Souls III was supposedly built upon that same engine, I expected that the PS4 version would perform on par with (or maybe even better than) the PC version. I was wrong. Both console versions of Dark Souls III are capped at 30 fps, but their actual performance doesn't even meet that standard. This is a big problem considering that the game plays almost as fast as Bloodborne. Dropping a few crucial frames of enemy attack wind-ups can mean the difference between a successful dodge or parry, or losing a third of your health to a single attack. Bloodborne had the load screen issue that was that game's near-debilitating "known shippable"; and now Dark Souls III has its console framerate as being the major launch issue that must be fixed. At least Bloodborne's problem didn't impact actual gameplay...
Table of Content
A challenge to Souls fans
This is probably the hardest game in the lineup. In fact, it may even be too hard in some ways. Enemies are very aggressive and relentless, they are very fast and swift at attacking, and they are very good at tracking your movement during an attack. I feel like the game is sadly front-loaded with excessive difficulty. Oh, don't get me wrong! It's hard throughout, and there's still some definite mid-and-late-game peaks of difficulty. But this game easily has the highest barrier to entry of any game in the lineup.
Dark Souls III is very hard and very much front-loaded with difficulty.
It's one thing to provide a challenge, but the early levels of this game maybe cross the line into outright cruelty. If I weren't already invested in the series, I might not have even made it past the Lothric knights in the High Wall. Yeah sure, Demon's Souls had the Red Eye Knights, and Dark Souls had the Black Knights, and Bloodborne had the warewolves; but in those cases, those difficult enemies were blocking optional paths and items. This is why I can kind of tolerate the mutating tentacle monster on the rooftop that hits very hard, has a ton of HP, obscures half the screen, and causes an annoying framerate drop. Yeah, it's located in a critical path of the level, but it can be easily avoided and is basically just guarding a crystal lizard. The difficult Lothric knights, on the other hand, are placed in critical bottlenecks that must be passed as part of the necessary path of progression through the level, and they will shred new players to pieces! Heck, even that fat, winged knight going around in circles in the courtyard is easier than the Lothric Knights.
And then you get to the Undead Settlement, which is a maze full of ambushes and difficult enemies. Those fat evangelists and the large cleaver undead hit hard and have deceptively long reach and multi-hit combos. This is at a time when your HP and stamina are so low that you can't reliably block their attacks. Their long reach and relentless aggression means you can't back away either. So you're stuck having to stick to close range and roll through their attacks - a maneuver that can result in a quick death if you make but a single slip-up. I had a lot of trouble handling these enemies (as I was still getting used to the new timings for dodging and parrying, and the stamina requirements for blocking), and so I imagine that many rookies will likely be completely overwhelmed.
Dangerous enemies have narrow windows for parrying their attacks, making it hard to practice this technique.
There's a higher skill floor than in previous titles, and the game demands a further degree of mastery of rolling, stamina management, i-frames, and weapon movesets that previous games simply didn't require. Bloodborne also toes with this line, but Dark Souls III seems to go a bit further. The problem here is that enemies become far too fast and deadly far too early in the game, and the player character remains slow and relatively weak. What's worse is that the game breaks with the original's insistence on fair difficulty by apparently completely failing to enforce the rules regarding stamina for enemies! This was also a problem in Dark Souls II, but it didn't bother me quite as much because those enemies had slower attacks that were generally easier to dodge.
There's no gradual ramping up of challenge for the player to learn things like roll and parry timings, and there aren't any large, slow enemies to practice these techniques against. Bloodborne had very fast enemies to go with its very fast combat, but the character was also equally fast. Bloodborne also had the Brick Trolls, whose telegraphed attacks gave plenty of opportunity to practice parrying in the very first level while still making progress. Dark Souls III simply doesn't have this. There's the undead spearmen that are easy to parry, but they're so slow and defensive that you'll likely just get bored waiting for them to attack and miss your opportunity to parry. Sure you could go back to the tutorial level to practice parrying, but then you're not making any progress. There's also a lot more instances early of mobs, including the presence of difficult casters (or even bosses) being among those mobs. Fortunately, the boss is very slow and lumbering, and the casters have good audio cues for when they're casting that help to make these mobs less frustrating to deal with.
The big, armored elephant in the room
Poise has been disabled for players, which means enemies will always stagger you, but you might not stagger them.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to the game's difficulty early on is the completely baffling way in which poise and defense work - which is that they don't. In addition to not being able to upgrade armor to improve its defenses, the poise stat appears to have been completely disabled for all players in the game's code for ... some reason. Poise was one of the best additions from Dark Souls 1, and its apparent removal completely baffles me. Is it bugged and they're planning on fixing and enabling it later via a patch? Is it planned to be part of DLC? "Hey, want poise back? Pay $15 for this DLC!" The value still shows up in the UI, and there's still rings and weapons that exclusively improve poise, so it definitely seems like FROM intends for poise to be in the game. The enemies seem to still have poise, so this situation seems completely unfair. This might be part of the reason why the start of the game feels so difficult, since those damned speedy Lothric Knights can hit through your attacks, but you can't hit through theirs! [More]
Wednesday, April 27, 2016 10:15 AM
Football season's starting to get under way. The draft is coming up later this week, and I'll be interested in seeing who John Fox and the Bears select in their efforts to rebuild the team. However, there's a more personally-interesting story that popped up this week: according to several reports, the Oakland Raiders are showing interesting in relocating to Las Vegas. According to multiple sources, Raiders' owner Mark Davis has already visited Las Vegas in preliminary talks about relocating his team, and he will return on Thursday to meet with the Nevada tourism officials to discuss UNLV's planned domed stadium.
Mark Davis met with Sheldon Addleson and Las Vegas representatives about possibly moving the Raiders to Vegas.
This all sounds like a terrible idea, and I don't think it's a good move for either the Raiders or the city of Las Vegas. I'm not a big fan of the domed stadium proposal to begin with, mostly because I think the location is a disaster of traffic management waiting to happen. UNLV wants to build the stadium on or near UNLV's campus in order to encourage live-in students to attend games, since many of them might lack cars and can't travel out to Sam Boyd Stadium out in the middle of nowhere. Seems understandable, except that the proposed area is already a major traffic arterial that is prone to congestion, and the stadium is planned to replace the current parking lot of the Thomas and Mack basketball arena. The Strip, and the roads around it, already suffer from severe congestion and gridlock on a pretty regular basis, especially on Saturday nights when UNLV games are typically played. And that's without 60,000 people trying to funnel into a stadium!
Las Vegas is a commuter town (and UNLV is mostly a commuter school), but Vegas lacks any large-scale mass transit options. Our bus system is lackluster, and we don't have any kind of light rail. The monorail system that runs along half the strip doesn't even stretch to downtown or to the airport, and won't enable opponent teams' fans to travel from the airport to the stadium - let alone support commuters wanting to come from the suburbs of Henderson, North Las Vegas, Summerlin, or the rapidly-growing southwestern corner. In addition, I doubt that the location of the stadium on-campus will help all that much with student attendence at UNLV games. I think a bigger factor in students not attending is that many of them have part-time jobs and work on Saturdays. So they wouldn't be attending no matter where the stadium is located.
UNLV is considering building a new football stadium [LEFT] in the place of the
Thomas & Mack Center's existing (and barely-sufficient) parking [RIGHT]
And then there's the parking issue. Without public transit, fans are stuck driving to the game, and Las Vegas citizens are (from my experience) frustratingly-averse to carpooling. If you build a 60,000-seat stadium, you'll need a 60,000-car parking lot to go along side it. Except this stadium is replacing the existing parking lot outside of the Thomas and Mack. So where will everybody park? Are they going to add ten floors to the existing southern parking garage? They can't build an underground parking garage; that would be a disaster waiting to happen. Las Vegas is located in a valley, and UNLV's campus is at one of the lowest points in that valley, which means when we get our late August and September "monsoons", the area is prone to flooding. UNLV's parking lots have been known to flood during heavy rainstorms. An underground parking garage would likely turn into a subterranean swimming pool when a similarly heavy rainstorm inevitably happens.
The UNLV campus has flooded during heavy rainstorms, damaging vehicles and leaving students and visitors stranded.
But I digress...
UPDATE MAY 10, 2016:
More recent reports have indicated that the Raiders would continue to play in California until a new stadium is constructed in Las Vegas. They would not be playing in Sam Boyd Stadium. This certainly makes the move seem more serious to me, since most of my doubts regarding Davis' sincerity was the result of Davis suggesting that the Raiders might play at Sam Boyd for a couple years while waiting for the new stadium. So the following few paragraphs have now been rendered moot, so feel free to disregard.
In any case, such a stadium won't be completed for years! I'm not even sure if it's even been fully approved yet. But these reports are saying that the Raiders could be playing in Las Vegas as early as the 2017 NFL season. So where would they play? Mark Davis supposedly has already visited Sam Boyd Stadium, and has approved of it as a temporary home for the Raiders until the new stadium gets built.
Hot off of playing Bloodborne's The Old Hunters DLC, and with Dark Souls III just over the horizon, I thought I'd get myself hyped up by playing through the re-release of Dark Souls II, Scholar of the First Sin. This version of the game was a next-gen enhancement of the original game that was released on the PS3, XBox 360, and PC a year prior, and it includes improved graphics, faster frame rate, and more challenging enemy-placement. It's available on PS4, XBox One, and PC, and is treated as a completely different game as the original version. It's not a DLC or a patch update (though it does include all three of Dark Souls II's DLC content).
Scholar of the First Sin looks much smoother in motion, with higher resolution and framerate.
Lighting and textures are (at best) only marginally improved from the last-gen release.
I was honestly expecting Scholar of the First Sin's graphics to be considerably better than they are. In fact, I honestly don't think the graphics are much better than the last-gen release; I think the only difference is that it displays at full 1080 resolution and plays at a high end of 60 frames per second. Colors are a little more vibrant, and the game doesn't look as washed-out, but models and environments don't seem any more complex, and textures are only maybe slightly more detailed. Unfortunately, darkness still isn't as dark as it needs to be to make the torch as necessary for exploration as it was apparently intended to be. In pre-release demos, darkness was implied to be a complete fade to black that rendered objects within the dark invisible. Simply adjusting the brightness of your TV wouldn't change that. In the released version, darkness doesn't go completely black, so objects are only hidden if your TV brightness is low - lower than the recommended brightness level of the game. Even then, the release game looks brighter, and Scholar of the First Sin does very little to change that.
PREVIEW FOOTAGE showcased greater contrast between light and dark, and more detailed textures and geometry...
This graphical downgrade, the complete failure of FROM or Namco/Bandai to inform the public about it, and the resultant misleading marketing that repeatedly showed demos, screenshots, and footage that wasn't representative of the final product left a huge negative impression on a lot of players - especially those who pre-ordered it. That poor initial taste is probably a huge part of the reason why this game has gotten such a negative reception, even though that negative reception is mostly warranted. Scholar of the First Sin was an opportunity to wash that bad taste out of consumers' mouths and give us the game that was advertised, marketed, and pre-ordered. But Namco and FROM didn't bother.
Darkness is just rarely ever a meaningful component of the gameplay. Darkness may lower the range of target locks though, so even though I could plainly see enemies, I felt like I wasn't able to target lock them as readily as I could in the PS3 version. Even so, there's enough sconces laying around that you can light a sconce, extinguish your torch to fight, then re-light it at the sconce after all the enemies have been dispatched. It ends up just being some extra overhead if you care enough to bother with it, and not an essential element of gameplay.
... FINAL PRODUCT shows low contrast between light and dark, frequent repeated textures, and simplified geometry.
Textures, character models, and world geometry don't look noticeably better. Many areas still have generally blander textures than what was presented in pre-release videos, and the textures noticeably repeat. World geometry also seems less detailed and intricate compared to pre-release videos, which takes away a lot of the personality that these preview areas exhibited. I was expecting Scholar of the First Sin to restore many of these superior textures and models from the previews, and I'm really disappointed that the game doesn't look better than it does.
Darker contrast in previews [LEFT] made real-time shadows more vibrant,
and creatures more threatening and mysterious than in the release build [RIGHT].
The improved textures also don't do much to help the game's generally bland art design. There aren't many visually-appealing locations in the game, as they are all just variations of run-down castles and forest paths. Most of them have pretty sparsely-decorated hallways with simple geometry that has little-to-no personality. There's nothing here that even approaches the ominousness of Demon's Souls' Latria, and the oppressive environments of Bloodborne make Dark Souls II almost serene by comparison. Again, Scholar of the First Sin does little-to-nothing to address this. No Man's Wharf probably remains my favorite location in this game, as it's one of the few locations that takes place in a fairly unique setting that actually utilizes light and dark for gameplay purposes.
So while the visual upgrade doesn't really add much to the game, the higher framerate definitely does make a noticeable difference. The PS4 doesn't seem to maintain a full 60-fps at all times, but it seems to always run better and smoother than the 20-30 fps of the PS3 version. Animations are much smoother, and ambient effects (such as foliage swaying in the wind) look much better. I admittedly had to spend some time re-adjusting to the game's speed. After coming back from the rapid pace of Bloodborne, this game almost seemed to be moving in slow motion, and the higher framerate probably contributed greatly to that sensation. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just a stylistic difference. Scholar of the First Sin plays smoothly (on the PS4), and it looks decent (even though it should have looked better)... [More]
Earlier this year, it was announced that CBS will be creating a new Star Trek television series to celebrate the franchise's 50-year anniversary. Very little was known about the series except that it would be under the leadership of Bryan Fuller (a former Deep Space Nine staff writer), and that it would premiere on CBS's All-Access streaming service. As one of Fuller's first actions, he made a lot of Trek fans very excited by hiring Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country director Nicholas Meyer to be the chief writer of the new series. These happen to be my two favorite Star Trek movies (with Undiscovered Country getting better each time I see it).
A leaked poster for the new Star Trek series.
But the biggest questions were when would the series take place, and what would it be about. Many of the previous pitches for show ideas that I had read sounded terrible. Many sounded like really cheap fan-fiction concepts. Like the idea of a series about James Kirk's descendant becoming captain of a new Enterprise to save the Federation from an extra-galactic alien threat.
I avoided talking about the topic previously because I wanted to reserve judgement until something more concrete about the show was announced. Well now, something has, and it has me very excited. According to rumors, Fuller and Meyers are producing a seasonal anthology series similar to the popular American Horror Story. This means that each season would contain its own self-contained, independent storyline that could explore any time period, characters, locations, or concepts from the entire series' canon. I've been saying for years that Star Trek would be a great fit for an anthology series. The canon is large and expansive enough that focusing it on a singular time, place, and characters feels very restraining and limits the types of stories that can be told.
Of course, when I started pitching that idea to friends and anyone who would listen (don't know why I never blogged about it...), I hadn't conceived of a seasonal anthology. I was thinking more along the lines of a true anthology similar to The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. The problem that I was fully willing to point out was the difficulty in establishing compelling characters and relationships within the span of a single hour-long episode. I had, at the time, proposed to resolve this by occasionally re-visiting specific characters and events from specific episodes in order to further flesh out their plots. I had even suggested having a few independent story threads going simultaneously each season, and then maybe tying them together through a uniting theme, plot element, or some other relation. A seasonal anthology is an elegant and easy solution, and American Horror Story has been a fantastic model.
The first season will supposedly take place sometime after the events of The Undiscovered Country.
In addition, the first season is rumored to take place after the events of the The Undiscovered Country (during the gap between the original series movies and The Next Generation). There's a lot of material in that time period that is rife for exploration. The changing dynamics between the Federation and the Klingons could make for some good stories. First contact with the Cardassians occurs sometime during this period. And the end of hostilities with the Klingons meant that Starfleet finally had an opportunity to de-militarize and go back to performing the peaceful exploration that it was founded to do.
But that's not the end of it. The anthology nature of the series means that it won't be constrained to that time period. The following seasons could go anywhere. Subsequent seasons could take place entirely on alien worlds; could show us the formation of the Borg collective; could [finally] explore the Earth-Romulan wars that Enterprise teased but never actually got to; or it could go into the distant future of the series and show us the death of the Federation. Even more, there's nothing to say that an entire season couldn't take place within the mirror universe (like Enterprise's episode "In a Mirror, Darkly", but extended out to a full season); or, a season could even hypothetically take place in the new continuity created by J.J. Abrams.
An anthology could go anywhere and anywhen in the Star Trek canon - even an entire season in the mirror universe!
This new anthology series is one that truly could boldly go where no series has gone before, and it can boldly go anywhere! [More]
It took months, but I finally finished and reviewed Metal Gear Solid V. It was a tough game to review, mostly because my dreams for an epic conclusion to the Metal Gear franchise seem to have been dashed by corporate stupidity forcing the game to be released before it was finished. Maybe Kojima (and Konami) have some elaborate trick up their sleeve, and there's going to be some crazy patch that replaces the recycled missions in Chapter 2 with real missions, and which adds the missing third chapter and the "Kingdom of the Flies" mission. Unless that happens, I'm going to operate under the assumption that the recycled missions of chapter 2 were put in as placeholders for missions that were planned but never completed. And I have some ideas of what a couple of those missions might have been about.
There's half of Foxhound from Metal Gear Solid 1, right there!
After retrieving the microfilm in mission 38, you get a couple of intel tapes that might inform exactly what chapter two was supposed to be about.
Informant's Report: Part 2 talks about the "Third Boy", who is a young Psycho Mantis. The first part of the tape reveals details on how Psycho Mantis' powers work. The second part is a bit more interesting, as it poses the conjecture that Eli was projecting his will onto the Third Boy, and controlling Sehalanthropous. This establishes how Eli (who would later be revealed to be Liquid Snake) begins his partnership with Psycho Mantis, the first recruit in his Foxhound team that would eventually take over Shadow Moses in the first Metal Gear Solid game.
Was mission 40 supposed to be about Sniper Wolf?
Obtaining Sniper Wolf's handerchief from the retread of "Cloaked In Silence" unlocks the Sniper Wolf costume.
With that in mind, let's take another look at mission 40. It's a repeat of mission 11: "Cloaked In Silence". It's a repeat of the sniper battle with Quiet, complete with the same mission briefing and even repeating the cutscene of Quiet shooting down the pursuing plane on the way back to Mother Base. All the repeat missions in chapter 2 are reproduced verbatim from the original mission, right down to the bookending cutscenes (even though they make absolutely no narrative sense). But there's two interesting things about mission 40 that make it stand out. The first is that Quiet isn't wearing her regular bikini outfit. She's wearing a jumper - Sniper Wolf's jumper from Metal Gear Solid 1. She even has blonde hair. Secondly, completing the mission awards the player with a Handerchief item that allows Quiet to be equipped with the Sniper Wolf outfit.
Is this a simple fan-service Easter Egg? Or was Mission 40 supposed to be a battle with a young Sniper Wolf that would establish how Eli [Liquid] and Sniper Wolf first met?
Quiet even wears this uniform during the battle.
Sniper Wolf was born in Iraq, and she grew up amongst military conflict, she moved around the Middle East and Africa frequently to avoid the authorities, and she was eventually rescued from that life by Big Boss. So her backstory is actually a near perfect match for an appearance in Phantom Pain! Maybe Iraq was supposed to be a third area of operations? Mission 40 could have been intended to be a mission in which the player finds a young sniper wolf, engages her in battle to test her ability, and then captures and recruits her. Kojima may not have had time to finish this mission, and so Quiet's alternate outfit model was used instead, and Quiet's duel mission became a place-holder.
I would expect that if a young Sniper Wolf had been planned, then Kojima would have already cast a voice and mo-cap artist. But as far as I know, nobody has found assets for any character model or dialogue from any one who could qualify as a young Sniper Wolf. IMDB does list some voice actresses for various soldier roles, but no young girls other than Paz's voice (from Tara Strong). But if the game is truly unfinished, and whole chapters hadn't even been developed yet, then it's possible that such casting simply hadn't happened yet. If early rumors of the mission list are true, then the game wasn't nearly as far along as we think. That mission list, by the way, has a mission late in the game called "Beauty of the Battlefield", which could be a prime candidate for the mission that would have introduced a young Sniper Wolf, and the fact that it takes place during a chapter called "The Cost of Revenge" could also be appropriate to Sniper Wolf's story. Though, this mission could also just have easily been a mission about Quiet.
It is implied several times by behavior and dialogue that Quiet has romantic feelings for Snake.
Alternatively, the intent of establishing a link between Quiet and Sniper Wolf might be to imply that Quiet is Wolf's mother. There are hints of a possible romance between Quiet and Venom Snake. Ocelot suggests that Quiet might not have killed Snake because she likes him as early as right after you bring her back to base. There's the infamous "playing in the rain scene", and her final casette tape after "A Quiet Exit" even says that she has "feelings" for Snake. And then, of course, there's her suggestive poses in the brig and helicopter. It's possible that there could have been a point during design in which they were planned to have a romantic relationship and possibly even a child together (assuming Quiet is even capable of conceiving and bearing children in her condition). Alternatively, Quiet could have mothered Sniper Wolf prior to the operation in Cyprus. Her injuries during that operation, and abduction and experimentation by Cipher and Skull Face could have separated her from her young child and left Sniper Wolf an orphan... [More]
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