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Technomancer and troubleshooter by trade. Programmer by choice. Creator of Deviant Paradigm, somewhat by accident.
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Monday, November 12, 2007
Well, rather than getting things done yesterday, I finished some outstanding entertainment instead -- I finished reading Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead and beat Bioshock on Medium for the "good" ending.
First, the literature. Speaker for the Dead is a good book. Not as good as Ender's Game, but the xenology of the world is fascinating, if far-fetched, and the story is well told. I also learned one important thing: never, never, NEVER write a book where half the dialogue is in a language your reader doesn't understand. Nothing is more obnoxious than looking at a passage and not being able to work out what the characters just said to each other because it's in Portuguese. Make some signal that they're speaking a different language or translate everything and do it accurately, or make everyone speak the language you're writing the book in. I know it was done for atmosphere, and for that effect, it's nice. But it's also intensely frustrating for the reader and takes them out of the world, out of the story. It's permissible if the main character doesn't understand the language either -- they're as lost as the reader is, so the reader identifies with them and stays in the world of the story. But when everybody but the reader is in on the language, it's distracting. Stories work because the reader is in on details that the characters don't know (the "Look out behind you!" mechanism) or the reader and the main character are equally ignorant (the "I wonder what's going to happen next" mechanism). When the characters know something that the reader doesn't, and flaunts this knowledge to the reader constantly, the reader gets a little irritated by the constant condescension from the story. It's still a good story, and this is just one gripe, it's just one that really leaped out at me.
Now, Bioshock. Also a well told story, very interesting, but with some irritating bits related not to the story, but to the storytelling. There's going to be some minor spoilers here, so if you're holding off on playing the game, you read further at your own risk. If you haven't seen the Zero Punctuation review at the Escapist Magazine,
watch it, I have to agree with most of Yahtzee's commentary (then again, I played, and beat, all of his adventure games before I even knew he had this "column," so I'm inclined to like and agree with the man in the first place). Bioshock is really easy. Seriously, having the magic "come back to life" tanks spread around, used automatically at no cost just took the difficultly out back (what little there was) and shot it. Even barring those from the discussion, the only time you'll be in trouble is fighting the Big Daddies, and those go down pretty easy from ye old shotgun (seriously, don't even try anything else, the shotgun works phenomenally well, especially compared to your plasmids). The story is interestingly told. I was expecting Atlas to betray me for the whole game, so it came as no surprise when it happened. Ryan's last scene was spectacular. It gave me enormous respect for the man. The end was otherwise kind of "meh." It was much easier than the earlier parts of the game (no wonder they mess with your health and plasmids -- otherwise it'd be a cakewalk), especially Hephaestus, since it had much tougher splicers than the previous areas and a reasonably variety of types. The endgame had very little variety, though the splicers did take a reasonable amount of damage to go down. Most of the plasmids aren't as useful as you think they are. Electro-bolt is unquestionably the most useful of the bunch -- you'll be using it and Telekinesis throughout the game. I really enjoyed Insect Swarm, but that's just because I would laugh and shout "Bees!" every time I used it. The research was a nice touch, I approve of it heartily. The game's atmosphere is spectacular. In Fort Frolic, when you first realize the "statues" are spider slicers, it's delicious. One was in a chair, facing a corner. I upgrade my shotgun, turn around, and it's standing right behind me. If I hadn't mastered the reflex of "surprise = shoot the thing in the head with the shotgun," I'd have jumped out of my skin. Fort Frolic was probably my favorite area. It was so varied and actually kept me on edge.
The thing that hobbled the game the most was a disrespect for the intelligence of the players (maybe they were concerned about making it accessible for the XBox Live crowd) and an incredible laziness by the developers. I actually got an unsolvable hacking minigame. It's one thing to make them impossible because you have to flip the first piece, that's just irritating, but if I was a little quicker, I'd get it. But to have one that you can't solve at all? And before you get started -- no it's wasn't maximum difficulty either. The puzzle was around a 30% difficulty, still clearly green but pushing into yellow. How hard is it to work backwards and make sure that your random puzzle HAS a solution? Not very. It's not half as hard as writing a real AI, and they did enough of that. Whoever decided that they didn't need an inventory screen shouldn't be allowed to work in game development ever again. I would have loved to have the ability to figure out how much of the various invention ingredients I had (though that really didn't matter and by the end I had tons of crap and nothing else that I needed to build). But most of all, I wanted a way to easily sort my plasmids without having to visit a gene bank and going through the whole dang thing. That wouldn't be an issue except they resort the plasmid list every single time you get an upgraded plasmid or they jank around with your plasmids (this happens several times at the end alone). So once you finally learn the arbitrary order they put the plasmids in, they just go and reorder them on you. The only reason I had trouble with the last boss fight at all was because I couldn't find the plasmids I wanted (Electro-bolt for the curious), though in retrospect, I should have just ignored the plasmids entirely for that fight. I don't want the ability to switch in and out plasmids and tonics, that's what the gene bank's for. I just want to be able sort the list of plasmids I've got equipped and put the ones I really want to use close to my fingers. The developers also appear to think I'm retarded, because when I go through a hallway, get a thing, and then turn around to find a batch of bodies in the hall and splicers have spent the last third of the game pretending to be dead (it worked the first time), they don't seem to expect that I'm going to start shooting the "bodies" in the head. At least, that's what it says to me when it puts up the "The machine you just damaged was hacked and friendly to you" message when I shoot them. It just doesn't make any sense at all. Like I said, lazy development that has no respect for my intelligence. But apart from that, it's a lot of fun, probably one of the best games to come out this year. Check it out.