How to find missing PS Vita PlayStation®Plus titles

I’m a huge fan of my Vita for gaming and remote play on my PS4 – most likely due to my trophy hunter/gatherer nature. Every couple of months, a great title appears on PlayStation®Plus for Vita and then you go to grab it fresh from the store as soon as you can. However, this isn’t always as simple as you’d hope – this month I had to try a bunch of things before I could download Titan Souls.

Here’s a set of steps you should take once you enter the store.

  1. Open the PlayStation®Plus section. If the game is there, cracking job! Start the download! If it’s not there, go straight to step 2:
  2. Try the Search box (top right). Give it a word from the title of the game and let it go find it. Beware that the title may be quite a way down the list of results. If that doesn’t work:
  3. For Plan C, you need to “purchase” the title elsewhere. You can do this on the PS Store website or on another PlayStation device, such as your PS4 if the title was cross-buy – it may even already be in the PS Plus section of the PS4 Store! Once purchased, you can go back to the PS Store application on your Vita and go to the Download List (lower right under the ellipsis) and near the top of the list should be your recent “purchase”, ready for you to download.

If option 3 doesn’t work, it might just be a simple mistake – if it was really meant to be, it may appear by the end of the month – Titan Souls has now appeared on the PS Vita Store.

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One Game a Day

In an era of PS Plus, Humble Bundles, GOG.com and Steam sales, the backlog of games is ever growing (as I’ve mentioned before) and it’s very possible that there’s treasure hidden in that pile. Yahtzee’s remark (in his Broken Age review) about Driver being a game he wouldn’t have played if it had been forced on him, made me think about some of the great games I’ve found in unexpected places, such as Renegade Ops, Limbo and Thomas Was Alone. My plan for February was to play one new game a day.

(One thing to note; February was possibly one of the best months to run this experiment due to the quality of the PS Vita line up!)

The Games

1) Saint’s Row IV (PS3) – A Christmas present put on hold by the release of the PS4. Having only experienced the 3rd of the series that I loved every minute of, I followed all of the press for this and couldn’t wait any longer. As games go, I think of Saints Row as the fun cousin of GTA, emphasising fun over authenticity, without losing any quality in the story. I played this all the way through to the end, and I’ll work my way through the DLC when I get through the other games.

2) OlliOlli (PSVita) – OlliOlli is something I first saw a long time ago and it immediately reminded me of the wonder of playing Tony Hawk on the GBA. The game itself has an initial learning bump, mostly due to the controls, that you overcome to run through all of the levels. Each level takes a couple of tries before you complete it (at least on the easiest setting), and with enough challenges on each level to give you some reason go back and keep retrying. The challenge mechanic means that you don’t feel like you’re grinding (sorry – I didn’t want to use that word but I couldn’t think of an alternative) but rather you just keep trying and retrying.

3) Skulls of the Shogun (iPad) – I downloaded this on a weekend when it was £0 with no idea what it actually was and it’s been the untouched icon next to my daily Tapped Out on the iPad since then. A turn-based strategy involving moving your little guys to a location they can hit the enemy and then doing some hitting. Once I started playing, I quickly came to the conclusion that this game wasn’t for me. I’m not a big fan of the anxiety that comes from a little guy riding into the range of the enemy, giving them half a whack and then waiting for the return hit to knock them dead.

4) Tiny Death Star (Nexus 10) – Something that’s been sitting on my Android tablet for a while. It definitely drops you in without too much background or tutorial, but the fundamentals are easy to pick up. Initially I thought it was something I’d go back to from time-to-time (read daily) but the grind of running a lift to new floors eventually got to me to the point where I removed it for good.

5) Monster Hotel – A PlayStation Mobile freebie. Possibly a bit of duplication after Tiny Death Star, but micro managing monsters was definitely more annoying than lifting people to each floor. A well executed plan let down by the scrolling often overshooting the target, especially while carrying a monster to a new destination, and the overlapping thought bubbles complicating knowing what each monster wants.

6) Rock Boshers DX – Another PlayStation Mobile freebie. This gets bonus points for the Spectrum style loading and the 8-bitness of the whole deal. Overall, not a bad game with a proper retro feel; simple controls, escalating difficulty and living on a knife edge defined by the collision detection.

7) Bike Rider DX (PS Vita) – And another PlayStation Mobile freebie. A great start to an idea for a game, but I think the missing component was any form of pressure or fear of loss. I think this could become a much stronger game if the challenge was increased or if you lost more when you died.

8) Quiet Please (PS Vita) – The last of the PlayStation Mobile freebies I played and I’m glad I left it until last. A classic “adventure” style game where you have to silence all the noises in and around the house by finding and using items scattered about. Simple pixel graphics mixed with a difficult to define charm make this one of the gems I was hoping to find. I did get stuck on the first playthrough, but stubbornly I gave it another go, believing I’d just get stuck again and managed to finish it. Really worth a go, especially for the charisma of the little brother, and something I’d love to share with more casual gamers as an entry level adventure game.

9) Crazy Market (PS Vita) – A F2P game I grabbed from the PS Store a while back but didn’t try. Basically you get the chance to be a check out operator (although I have strong ranty feelings about the self-service tills that are appearing in stores) and you have to scan products, type product codes and return dogs and babies to their owners/parents. The game fits the classic F2P mould with an in-game coin based currency, boosts you can buy, and a limited number of lives that refresh (30 minutes per life to a maximum of 3) to limit your playing without extra spend. I actually found the game to be quite enjoyable and it fitted in at the time when I only had time to play during tea breaks amidst swathes of DIY.

10) Flappy Bird (iPad) – Based on a tweet from Tim Moss, and a background buzz of mentions at that time in the month, I thought I’d give Flappy Bird a try. The most accurate description I’ve heard is “crushing”. I got a high score of 3 after 10 goes, then deleted it. In the days following that, it really become a burning topic in the game industry, but I’d already left it behind.

11) QWOP (Nexus 10) – I first saw this in a GDC Experimental Games Workshop session and thought how hard could it be!? Then it popped up in a Android Humble Bundle and I thought I’d grab it and give it a go (try the online version here). It’s basically a game where you control a runners thighs and calves by using the Q, W, O and P keys to race along – I was already wondering how the control scheme would move from keys to screen? The fact is, the original was damn hard but still quite hilarious to play and the Android port is a much more polished but just as devilish version. Using the touchscreen to control the legs means it’s much more challenging on a tablet than a phone, just due to the reach for your thumbs. And I’m awful at it. I got better with practice, but better means getting 4 metres along rather than 1 – I’m unlikely to complete the 100 metres and very unlikely to ever be ready for the hurdles.

12) Rage HD (iPad) – A freebie downloaded long ago and left unplayed, but considered for deletion every time I need to find some space on the iPad. A simple on rails shooter, the gameplay is mostly smooth and easy to pick up. Having played the PS3 version, the visuals match my memory and despite the on rails nature, I found it a really enjoyable game. The money scoring mechanic initially confused me, as I expected an end of level shop to upgrade my weapons, but it’s just a score. And I really want better guns.

13) Surge Deluxe (PS Vita) – A colourful join the dots game with a lot of pressure. One of the few games I can think of that I’ve bought based on the studio’s previous work, without it being the next in the series. Quite good fun, but the music reminded me of Velocity, while I’m still awaiting the arrival of Velocity 2X.

14) TxK  (PS Vita) – The definitive version of the Tempest games from Jeff Minter, heavily hyped and with a cult following even before launch. I’d only played Llamatron on the Amiga before, and I think it was before my time. I think it was the Genesis blog post that really got me interested. My initial play sucked until I trained my left thumb to only go left and right, but I still had issues on following the path on levels where the lines overlap. (The beginner’s guide also helps!) One of the features I love is the Restart Best option where the game tracks your best ever life count at the start of the level so you can start anywhere you’ve already played and play on, and if it’s too hard, skip back a few levels and then play it forward, trying not to die even more than usual, so that you have more lives on your future retries.

15) Ben there, Dan that (Steam) – I discovered Dan Marshall’s Gibbage blog almost 2 years ago and I’ve been following @danthat on Twitter ever since. I like his style of comedy and I’ve wanted to try his adventure games for a long time. With regular price drops on Steam, I thought I’d try Ben there, Dan that. During the first full scene in the apartment I laughed out loud 3 times which is a rarity in most games. As with most adventure games, there’s still a lot left to do on this one.

16) Dead Nation (PS3) – A Housemarque classic that was frequently mentioned in a lot of the press around Resogun, and which I’d put to one side (my PS3 says I downloaded it in 2011). However the Trophy Advisor on psnprofiles.com highlighted that there were quite a few of the easier trophies available there. That said, I started on the Grim setting and found an incredibly difficult game that felt very tense while still initially achievable. It feels different to my previous experiences with Housemarque games like Super Stardust and Resogun, since they’re more classic shooters that you restart from the start, whereas Dead Nation is a more linear experience where you continue from your furthest point.

17) Skylanders Swapforce (PS4) – I considered this as a Christmas present for my 5 year old son, versus the similarly toy oriented Disney Infinity, but I skipped both due to the cost. However a recent price drop at one toy store gave me a second chance. The PS4 version is non-stop gorgeous and at the start I thought it a bit too easy but since then the complexity level has massively increased and the increasing number of battle arenas is taking its toll on the small army of figures I also bought, since you need a new character when one dies off. I think we’ll be playing this for a long time yet.

18) Uplink (Steam) – From the Introversion Humble Bundle. I’ve been a long time follower of Introversions development, most recently Prison Architect, and when the Humble Bundle appeared, there was no need to think. Uplink was the first game that I unlocked on my Steam account that has remained dormant since HalfLife 2. An interesting hacking game, starting slightly complicated on the laptop due to high resolution and low mouse speed, but after a while I managed to start getting the hang of it. This is one that I think would play even better on a tablet, which is great because there’s an Android (which I also have via a Humble Bundle – yay) and iOS version – one for the plane on the way to GDC.

19) Threes! (iPad) – This one suggested by Alex Evans on twitter (@mmalex) and further pushed by the wonderful gameplay gif (as seen here at toucharcade.com). A simple concept, well presented but I’ve not yet learnt the trick. I’m averaging a score of 1000 per go, which I was quite proud to maintain, but having seen @kazhiraiceo, a parody twitter account, scoring 67,000, leads me to believe I can do a lot better.

20) Antichamber (Steam) – Included in the Humble Bundle (#11) that overlapped this month of trying games. Antichamber was something I’d previously seen but didn’t quite understand when I first saw it. It’s a long time since I played an FPS with mouse and keyboard so it took a few minutes to get back into it, and straight away I was dropped into a surreal black and white world with flashes of over-saturated colour. The puzzles are engaging and each is telegraphed in a different way with a clue somewhere nearby. The mapping and logo system help give a sense of the level of completion but the counting down timer means that you feel you need to keep moving forwards and exploring new places.

21) Space Marine (PS3) – Big white guy running around with big guns shooting big orks? I’d heard this was a bit of an unexpected gem which is why I chose it from my PS Plus backlog. There’s a lot of elements that hark back to the Warhammer universe in the characters and races, dialogue and details. The environments are full of all of these amongst the epic scenery. There’s a couple of minor negative things, like a big flashing save indicator prior to every large encounter, and the clunkiness of a character in a space suit that looks heavier than a family car. Overall though, it felt like a futuristic God of War depending a little more on guns than melee, and I continued playing until I completed it.

22) The Room (Nexus 10) – From one of the Humble Mobile Bundles. I managed to get through the first box while making and drinking a cup of tea, before getting pretty quickly stuck on the next one. A very beautiful game with incredible detail, but somewhat infuriating when you hit a brick wall.

23) Fuel Tiracas (PSVita) – One of the free PSM games from last year that I must have overlooked. It’s a simple tap-the-right-place-at-the-right-time-to-fill-the-gauges game, very well polished with a well designed difficulty scale. This was great fun until I hit my natural speed limit and it felt like I was fighting just to stand still.

24) Shadow Blade (iPad) – I think this was another Tim Moss recommendation. The gameplay is quite fluid as long as you can keep the ninja moving, which I found challenging, yet again due to the distance from the edge of the screen of the iPad case that my thumbs had to travel. I gave it half an hour, cleared the first section, but quickly lost interest when it got overly complex due to the controls.

25) Dead Trigger 2 (iPad) – This was at the forefront of the store when I was browsing through for ideas and I thought since I’d missed the first, and it was used as a poster child for rendering quality, I’d give it a go. I had more thumb on iPad issues, although the controls are quite simple, if a little sensitive. The gameplay is kind of fun, but I spent too much time twitching and looking at the floor or ceiling.

26) Device 6 (iPad) – The third in a row of games from the same engine, but a very different proposition. With an intro similar to a British 60’s TV show, the style is established early. I don’t want to give too many spoilers since it’s a game about discovery, but it’s a new way to approach an adventure game. I’m definitely going to go back to this, but next time, with a piece of paper by my side for my notes.

27) Battle of Puppets (PS Vita) – A PlayStation Mobile title that I grabbed based on this blog post. A simple opera-inspired strategy game where you build attackers for your army and they march directly towards the enemy, scrapping with anyone they meet on the way. Once I found enemy archers stall the motion of whoever they hit, I pretty much ruined the game for myself by just using archer rushes.

28) Gunhouse (PS Vita) – Another PS Mobile title grabbed based on a blog post. And like Battle of Puppets, there’s a very strongly defined art style. For the first few attempts , the tile matching game was confusing – it’s nothing like the Tetris or Match-3 games that my brain is wired for, but it’s really enjoyable ending up with weapons that you can use to assault the approaching attackers, before getting another go.

So what did I learn?

Well first, I did manage to find some gems; something new, OlliOlli, something very old, Ben there, Dan that and something unexpected, Quiet Please.

I also discovered that thumb based tablet gaming mostly aggravates me, mostly due to the lack of control feedback. I’ve been a big Vita fan and the fact is, I’ve always preferred playing with a controller. This has lead me to look at stand alone Android controllers or possibly a NVIDIA SHIELD™ as a future option.

I also know there’s still more games I’ve heard about that I want to try: FTL, Papers Please, Gone Home, Brothers – so maybe I’ll give this a go another month later this year.

10 Years of PhyreEngine™

Almost exactly 10 years ago, at a global SCE R&D meeting following the SIGGRAPH graphics conference, the decision was made to start to work on a graphics engine for PlayStation 3.

In the beginning

Initially codenamed Pootle, the aim was to provide a graphics engine for the upcoming PlayStation 3 with the intention of being used as both an engine for games development and a technical reference for future PlayStation 3 developers. Research began in SCEI’s European R&D team on the best ways to take advantage of the platform’s unique features such as the Synergistic Processing Units (SPUs – blindingly fast processors that need to be well treated to obtain maximum performance).

From the start there were several goals for the project:

  • It would be given away for free to all licensed PlayStation 3 developers to ensure all developers could access it.
  • It would be provided as source to allow developers to see how it works for research and debugging, taking any parts they need, or adding new functionality.
  • It would be cross-platform, at least in terms of licensing, so that developers could use it without having to exclusively target PlayStation 3 (to this day developers are still surprised we allow this).

To allow this last feature, the source was written to support multiple platforms including PC. Providing support for PC also meant that developers could use familiar PC tools to get started, transitioning to PlayStation specific tools to further tailor their title to the platform. Later we also decided to include ‘game templates’, more fully featured example code, representative of particular game genres, with all of the artwork included to show how it’s done.

Introduced to the world

PhyreEngine was first shown to the larger world at the 2006 Develop conference in Brighton, at that stage referred to as “PSSG”, named in line with other SDK components, where I presented the development process of one of our game templates to an audience mostly populated with the PhyreEngine faithful.

It next surfaced at Games Developer Conference (GDC) (slides), where we re-launched the engine with a new, more memorable name and a lot of enhancements. PhyreEngine took PSSG and extended it from a graphics engine to a game engine by adding common gameplay features such as physics, audio, and terrain. This coincided nicely with Chris Eden’s presentation “Making Games for the PlayStation Network” combining the low cost of PlayStation 3 debug kits with the free code and examples that you need to get started writing a game.

Terrain

The following year, PhyreEngine returned to GDC to announce PhyreEngine 2.4.0. This was the first time we were able to gather a long list of very happy PhyreEngine users to share their experiences using PhyreEngine. Along with the developers directly using PhyreEngine for their titles, we also heard from CTOs that used PhyreEngine for reference. This was highlighted in Matt’s Swoboda’s talk “Deferred Lighting and Post Processing on PlayStation 3” showing advanced research on the use of the SPUs to accelerate post processing techniques – techniques which are now the back-bone of many other rendering engines.

PostProcessing09b

New platforms

2010 saw the release of PhyreEngine for PSP, bringing the engine to PSP based on interest from the PSP development community. Matt came back to GDC in 2011 to introduce PhyreEngine 3.0. This newer version was better designed for modern multicore architectures, focusing on PS Vita and laying the ground-work for PlayStation 4, while taking the best parts of PlayStation 3 support from PhyreEngine 2. The presentation also dived deeply into some of the new technology and showed our latest game template, an indoor game using the new navigation and AI scripting features and showing rendering techniques that allowed us to reproduce the same beautiful image on PlayStation 3 and Vita.

SpaceStation

At the 2013 GDC this March we announced PhyreEngine 3.5. This was the third release of PhyreEngine 3 to support PlayStation 4 and our cross-platform approach meant that any developers already using PhyreEngine 3 on PlayStation 3 or PS Vita could take their title to PlayStation 4 with minimal changes. We were lucky to have worked in collaboration with other SDK teams to be able to provide feedback and develop early versions of PhyreEngine that could be used by other developers with early access to the platform.

We’ve also been working the the PS.First team to provide PhyreEngine to universities and academic groups. This is a video from Birmingham University’s GamerCamp from this last year using PhyreEngine.

The numbers so far

At the time of writing, PhyreEngine has been used in at least 130 games released on PlayStation consoles alone. I say “at least” because the PhyreEngine license is very liberal, and developers don’t even have to tell us they’re using it, let alone include a credit. These 130 titles come from at least 58 different studios and more than 11 of those studios have released 4 or more games. There’s also a fair split between retail and digital with 61% of titles being digital-only. This also does not include any titles from developers who have taken advantage of our open approach, and utilised components of PhyreEngine in their own engines. These games cover a wide range of genre and platform (indeed, many of the titles appear on multiple platforms), and we’re proud of the tiny role we’ve had in each and every one of them.

The future

PhyreEngine provided support for PS4 with one of the earliest pre-release SDKs so that it was able to form the graphical base for the IDU (interactive display unit) software that will be used around the world in shops to showcase launch games, as well as at least six games being released during the initial launch window. One already announced is Secret Ponchos from Switchblade Monkeys – hopefully we’ll be able to introduce more of them sometime soon! We currently estimate 50 titles in development too so we expect to be busy for quite a while.

Thanks

We’d like to thank our developer community for all the great games they’ve made with PhyreEngine over the years, and we hope to see many more in the future. You guys are awesome – and probably a little bit crazy – and we love you all.

Blog Hiatus 1

So it’s been a while since I last published a post – actually, it’s four and a half months since CCC and DefCon Videos – Part 1 in March. I knew it was going to happen, for several major reasons:

  1. First came GDC, an incredibly busy time of preparation, then meetings and then following up those meetings. And this was a great GDC for Phyre, with the 3.5 announcement and more positive quotes from our users than we could include in that blog post.
  2. An amazing Vita line up, especially in May and July. Thomas was Alone, Velocity Ultra, Rymdkapsel, and Soul Sacrifice in May and then Hotline Miami and Stealth Inc in July. Every one of these I’d recommend to anyone with a Vita.
  3. HPG 2013 and SIGGRAPH 2013 in Anaheim. More planning and preparation and a whole lot of busy. And now, pages and pages of notes to transcribe.

Other than these distractions, there have been some things that I’ve been looking at for new posts:

  1. More DefCon videos. I’ve already got a list of great videos which is longer than the first post.
  2. Dabbling in Android. Thanks to vs-android, I’ve been able to stay in my happy place with Visual Studio while developing for Android. I wanted to see how hard it would be to a) run something on my new Nexus 10 b) then port and run something with several hundred thousand lines of code.
  3. Spherical Harmonics. Having read the Robin Green paper several times until I understood it and then the Peter-Pike Sloan doc, then anything else I could find, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s quite a gulf between the simplicity of the underlying maths as exposed by a library like the DirectXSH library from Chuck Walbourn or the D3DXSH maths functions, and the literature that describes how to apply the maths. This makes me want to write an “SH for dummies” style post that would let me verify that I understand what is needed to integrate basic SH lighting and then highlight what I’ve missed.
  4. Actually writing up my HPG 2013 and SIGGRAPH 2013 experiences – that normally takes a few weeks!
  5. Updates to my HTML5/JS experiments. I still pick them up from time to time. I just love the simplicity of JS and HTML for protoyping, but I miss the exclusive control over the device that you get from console development.

Give me time, the next post isn’t too far away. (And the 1 in the title is for the fact that this isn’t the last time this is going to happen!)

2012 – A Year In Games – In Haiku form

Since last year’s write up of the games I enjoyed took 5 separate posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and more than 6K words, this year, I thought I’d take a different approach.

Uncharted 3

Aiming? Controls changed? / Beautiful vistas but hard / 2’s still favourite

God of War: Chains of Olympus

First PSP port / Enjoyable hack and slash / Near perfect for me

God of War: Ghost of Sparta

Didn’t play before / Yet more Kratos epicness / Best played in series

The Simpsons Arcade Game

Classic beat-em-up / Saved 30 quid from arcade / Unlimited plays

Tomb Raider: Underworld

First I’ve played of all / More difficult jumps than Drake / Going to take time

Saints Row: The Third

Fantastic intro / Driving, shooting, epic fun / Race quad bikes on fire!

Portal 2

Hadn’t played first one / Polished gameplay and detail / Now want to try first

Fifa (Vita)

Perfect for the train / Even if you don’t football / Backtouch for the win

Touch My Katamari

Sticky ball roll fun / Mad arse king protagonist / Great port, worth buying

Fallout: New Vegas (Game of the year)

Continued from end / Enjoyable new stories / Many hours of play 

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Epic adventure / Amazing length, depth and plot / First Vita must buy

Cars 2

Racer for the kids / Typical karting action / with the Cars 2 cast

Mass Effect 3

Yay! More chest high walls! / Tried net play but not my thing / OK with Ending

Rayman Origins (Vita)

Blimey – beautiful! / Favourite platformer yet! / Perfect portable

Resistance: Burning Skies

First Vita shooter / Strong start but difficult end / Glad to have 2 sticks

Renegade Ops

PSPlus Freebie / Great, pretty twin stick shooter / Top down SWIV-em-up

inFAMOUS 2

Amazing graphics / Huge city plus UGC /Going to take time

Gravity Rush

Took a while to learn / Something new – refreshing change / Worth a try – get Plus!

Plants Vs Zombies (Vita)

Well-polished and fun /Favourite tower defense / Stiff hand after hour!

Dungeon Hunter: Alliance

Standard RPG / Gave up! Refighting bosses / Not a great ending

Sound Shapes

Surprised by how good / Epic moments as tune grows / Inspirational

Ratchet and Clank

One more chance to play / Jumping and guns nostalgia / 1mill bolt trophy?

Lumines Electronic Symphony

Loved on PSP / Great choice from modern soundtrack / Could play forever

Borderlands DLC: Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution

Last of first’s extras/ Early bosses as claptraps! / Long but walking lots

Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 (Vita)

Super hard scrapper / Combo-centred for experts / Not Street Fighter 2

Disney Universe

Simple platformer / Limited character choice / Levels drag a bit

Journey

Wish I’d played before / Beauty, art and emotion / Need to revisit

LittleBigPlanet (Vita)

Platform and sub-games / Impressive tech achievement / Not one to Create

FIFA 13

Similar to 12 / Oops, set to semi-pro – fail / Need a year to learn

Borderlands 2

Loved first, couldn’t wait / RPG-lite shooter fun / Bring on DLC

LittleBigPlanet 2

Early Plus title / Nice look, heavy inertia / Drop-in, time-to-time

Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack

Jumpy munching blob / Reminiscent of Sound Shapes / Katamari-like

Chronovolt

Didn’t really like / Ball-rolley, time-freezy game  / Not my type of thing

Welcome Park

Vita Intro app / Initially ignored it / Good, better for kids

Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault

2 play or too hard /3rd person tower defense / Also on Vita!

LEGO The Lord of the Rings

Retells story well / No real challenge but still fun /Platinumable!

Limbo

Dark in art and plot / Increasingly difficult / So glad I played it.

Need For Speed Most Wanted (Vita)

Free roaming racer / Another Vita classic / My A1 beats all!

Knytt Underground (Vita)

Simple mechanics / Huge explorable game space / Challenging but fun

Vanquish

PSPlus download / Inspired by Access preview / Hyper-intense game

Disney Pixar Toy Story Mania

Disney Move  Shooter / Christmas break game for littl’un / 2 player havoc

Treasures of Montezuma Blitz (Vita)

Free Vita Match-3 / Lives limited by timer / Portable pastime

Call of Duty Black Ops II

Love me a shooter / Future weapons much more fun / Yet to play Zombies

Assassins Creed 3 Liberation (Vita)

First AC for me / Story heavy, some action /Want to try console

The Final Word

Screw this for a game of soldiers! I know you should embrace constraints but this has been a difficult job. Halfway through I realized I could have done something simpler, like limiting myself to a tweet-like 140 characters. If I never have to count syllables again, I’ll be a happy man.

2011 – A year in games – Part 5

Continuing on from the previous post. Here’s the last of the games I played last year:

Rage

Even before I started playing, I had already seen the examples of the texture streaming problems on PC with early drivers and automatically expected them with the PS3 version of the game. The first thing you see is a huge vista once you enter the game world proper and I can understand the artistic value of wowing the player, but there’s always the conflict with the abilities of the streaming system to keep up. It’s impressive how detailed the environments are and at times I felt sorry for the artists that had to go through and texture everything – it’s like nothing is instanced!

I played the game through on hard which lead to needing to replay some sections of the game after very quick deaths due to sections that were supposed to represent surprises during high tension periods of the game, but those deaths just lead me to saving more often after any long period of survival. I also had to wander off to youtube for a video of killing one of the first large monsters since I was coming to the conclusion that either he was indestructible or I was in the wrong place too early.

The shooting part of the game is great fun when you’re not getting instakilled. The gun upgrades and more especially the wingsticks made it much simpler to fight groups but there was still a lot of hiding to recover energy and sniping with the more deadly bullet variants that you can buy. Most of the time you’re not overwhelmed with enemies but when you are it can get quite intense and it feels like there’s a slightly uncanny valley in the controls where they differ from your other FPSs.

The driving and racing sections seem like an odd thing to tack on since the only real requirement for the cars is the long drive between mission areas. I did actually enjoy the driving competion areas in the game – they allowed me to reminisce about the first time I played Motorstorm. However, it took a while for me to discover that the list of challenges actually scrolled since there was nothing that indicated it, well, until I got to the second major stage of the game and thought I couldn’t go back to the first part and started worrying about aim for the 100% driving event completion trophy. The addons that you earn for the car in the game itself also seem to be redundant, but that could be due to playing the specified stages with specific cars then gathering and spending points on car addons leading to long periods in between using your everyday car.

I’d say Rage is worth playing to keep your FPS badge on your FPS-player-card, but if you only have time to play one FPS from my list, make it Resistance 3.

Battlefield 3

For me, Battlefield 3 is definitely the best looking of the 2011 shooters. The underlying Frostbite engine tech allows for some beautiful results and I think it’s going to make a solid foundation for EA’s future titles. The actual plot of the game is delivered in such high quality cut scenes that I think you can actually recognize the actor that one of the characters is based on. I find it difficult to think of a time in the gameplay where the visual quality dropped – maybe some of the facial close-ups during the game were leading towards the uncanny valley, but there’s not much else to complain about from the eye department.

That said, I didn’t enjoy BF3 as much as the other shooters due to a difficulty that I’d rate as damn hard with a sprinkling of irony and evil. Playing on the harder setting, I found myself getting killed more frequently than I’d expect, especially on a highly orchestrated tank level where you have to run from point to point while under heavy fire. I’ve also discovered that behind a stone wall isn’t a sufficient place to hide since bullets can somehow sneak through. I’ve heard from a fan of the multiplayer that they’d seen similar unbelievable deaths there too, although apparently that issue has been patched out of more recent versions. Similar to Rage, there’s a few too many bits where the element of surprise ends up killing you. The other major aggravation was the difference in the controls between Modern Warfare which defined my muscle memory and BF3 itself – a few too many times that I crouched when I wanted to sprint or jumped when I should have crouched.

Some of the sections are pure FPS candy: door at either end, lots of mid height walls and pillars to hide behind and a great supply of bad guys to shoot with realistic feeling weapons. There’s even one of these bits with no lights except for torches – very hard but good fun. It’s definitely a game for the shooter aficionado to provide a fully rounded experience of the genre.

The Baconing

I’ve been a fan of all three of the games in the Deathspank series. Each one comes in for about £10 and takes a solid 10 hours to play. The whole series has featured well balanced RPG-lite gameplay, a lot of funny stories for each of the side quests, with lots of random sub-plots and comedy accents – as you can expect when Ron Gilbert (of Monkey Island fame) is involved. The whole series has been loosely based on a set of thongs that you’ve needed to find, find again and then burn. Knowing that there’s a sufficient amount of play in each one spread over lots of missions means that you can get a good run going and do quite a lot of the missions in an hour sitting with a strong feeling of ooh-just-one-more-mission.

The Baconing is something I now pick up from time to time as I try to complete the Very Hard version. The big problem is that death leads to a loss of cash and I died several times leaving me a bit skint to stock up on weapons. And I’m always hoping there’ll be a new version soon too!

Modern Warfare 3

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was the FPS I’d been waiting for all year. I’ve been a huge fan of the range of COD titles, maybe not so much World at War, but everything else since the first Modern Warfare. For me, my favourite part has always been the intense shooter gameplay. Although there’s not too much that’s new in MW3, more of the same is good enough for me, and it definitely brings the high standard of animation, gameplay and even the FPS defining controls and feel. I’m sure there was a plot, and I think it tied the trilogy of games together, but like Resistance 3, I really didn’t pay too much attention because I was too deep in actually playing it.

I’ve been a big fan of the multiplayer and MW3 brought the Elite analytics system allowing you to review where you died, how often you died there, and who shot you. I’m sure it tracks kills, but I moved on to the next game before I rediscovered the talents I had in the golden days of MW1.

For me, the defining difference between the two multiplatform heavyweights in Shooter Season 2011, was that in Battlefield 3, a building can fall down when it’s across the road at the end of the level, whereas in MW3, the building falls on you and then you fight through it! Similarly in BF3, cars explode, in MW3, cars explode as they fly past your head! Despite my lack of memory of the plot, all of the COD titles leave me with a nice warm feeling (except World at War) and I know MW3 is a title I want to go back and play through again.

Mass Effect 2

The Mass Effect series was something I’d heard a lot about, but I hadn’t tried the first before I managed to lay my hands on the second. I’d heard mixed reviews of the first, mostly revolving around the time spent in lifts in between stages.

If you don’t know it, the majority of the game is heavily based on hiding and shooting mechanics. It took me a while to get a handle on the 3rd person shooting controls which just aren’t as good as Just Cause 2’s controls. In fact I died a lot at the start just by being killed dogs that closed on me quicker than I could aim at them well enough to shoot. I hardly used the magic powers (bio-somethings) available in the game apart from the slow time one since it was good for shooting people more accurately. I let my companions get on with it and use their own bio-thingys instead.

The rest of playing the game is the plot progression. The game is cut scene heavy and you spend a lot of time in dialogue selection screens just trying to progress. Since your options can typically be positive, negative or neutral, you can select options that score you points that might affect something in future, or not. Despite the large number of cut scenes, the underlying plot of the game is that you start with a list of people to hunt down, you can find each one in turn, then do them a favour so they love you and then take all of your colleagues/pokemon to the endgame. Due to my completionist tendencies, I picked up most of the people listed and did their side missions to get them on side. I only failed one side mission and that unfortunately had a slightly negative result near the end of the game, though nothing as bad as a game over. I think discovering the skip dialogue button was a momentous occasion and massively helped with the rate at which I got through the game.

One other part of the game was mining planets for minerals – minerals which are used for building weapon and ship enhancements. You need to run a scanner over the surface of a planet and then a wibbly-wobbly graph tells you the concentration of each type of mineral at that location before you fire a probe down to pick them up. For full coverage to properly check a planet, you need to sweep smoothly across the surface. After a while I realized that the back and forth scanning pattern I was using was just me mowing the lawn on someone else’s planet, so I cut back on the time spent scanning.

Although Charles Bloom called ME2 a bad game combined with a bad movie, I just considered all the dialogue to be minimally interactive cutscenes and it was the hiding behind walls and shooting robots that I really grew to enjoy.  I’m still looking forward to trying ME3 despite whatever’s been said about the ending –  I’ve been trying to avoid those articles.

Dead Island

I think Dead Island was another game that was a pleasant surprise for me and definitely another of my top 3 for 2011. Although it was an add-on freebie with an FHM subscription and it was only a promo, (i.e. the manual needed to be found on the internet) I really loved playing this game, as highlighted when I got the 28 days of playing trophy without realizing that I’d been playing it that much.

I’ve never been a big fan of melee combat from a first person perspective ever since I first played Hexen. I’ve always thought it feels more like morris dancing (run in, hit, jog back) than actually giving someone a swift kicking. I think most of this comes mostly from not wanting to get hit in return combined with a lack of understanding of the reach of the character and the weapon. However, I found the zombies in Dead Island gave you enough cues to know when to run, or with a big enough stick, keep on hitting them before they hit you. Maybe a bit of dancing is required for the larger bad guys, but the limb targeting mechanism typically helps you out by allowing you to focus on knocking their arms off and then battering their heads.

The game has enough backstory and depth of plot to keep you interested and the interface to the todo list of quests is easy enough to use that you can see a clear progression in each play session. I’m really looking forward to a Game of the Year version that includes all of the DLC so that I can come back to this.

Fin

And that’s the lot (ignoring iPhone and PC games).

Thanks to http://www.yourgamercards.net for listing all of my trophies to help with this list.

2011 – A year in games – Part 4

Continuing on from the previous post. Here’s the next set of games I played last year:

PixelJunk Shooter

I started playing Pixeljunk Shooter with the demo which I had downloaded once it became available, just to dip my toe in the water. Straight away, the demo had that feeling of being immediately playable. Having only seen videos before, I was afraid of hitting the sides would kill me or that there was some hidden level of complexity that would ruin it for me, but it’s actually remarkably easy to pick up with simple controls and a well balanced difficulty curve. The main game trophies are dependent on collecting all of the treasure in each level, so even after completing the game, it’s likely you’d have to go back to pick everything up.

I think the most beautiful feature of the game is the fluid effect used for both the lava and the water. I saw Jaymin Kessler (@okonomiyonda) talk about the tech used in PixelJunk Shooter 2 at SIGGRAPH 2011 (graciously reproduced on altdevblogaday.com here), even going so far as to be one of the few SIGGRAPH talks that breaks out the SPU code. PixelJunk do have a reputation for a great parity between gameplay and technology.

PixelJunk Shooter is one of those “easy to learn, difficult to master” games that I found enjoyable to play but for which I was unable to earn many trophies due to random mistakes that I made. I’m definitely going back to this one and will try to play it to perfection when time allows.

Plants vs Zombies

Although I knew Plants vs Zombies was a Tower Defense variant, I really assumed that it would be another bog standard example of the genre. Since it was a freebie from PlayStation Plus, I thought I’d give it a good go before consigning it to the tried-but-didn’t-really-like list. I was really surprised when I found out how good it was.

The game has been well polished – I’d expect this happened early on and then more polish was added during porting between so many different platforms. The polish shows through in several places: the simple controls that allow you use both the directional bottons and analog sticks; the balancing of the rate at which you need to collect the sunshine required to grow new plants; the difficulty due to the range in choice when selecting the plants for the next level; the range of zombie types; the different level layouts; and finally, the lawnmower concept where the first zombie to break through the line releases a lawnmower that kills the rest of the zombies on that row to give you some respite from the invasion.

I think the highlight for me was when a group of zombies in a bobsleigh jumped out of the bushes and it’s that kind of comedy and surprise that you’ll find at several different places in the game. I’d recommend finding a copy for your favourite platform and giving it a go. It’s a long game and I’m going to go back to it to finish it off.

God of War: Chains of Olympus (from the Origins Collection)

This was a game I had completed many moons ago on PSP and I really wanted to see how well the port had gone, especially since the PS3 ports of the PS2 versions in the God Of War Collection were remarkably well done.

It was a very well done port with some obvious points at which the effects had been updated from the PSP which makes me feel better about it than a minimalistic port. The gameplay is as good as I remember and has all the classic God Of War style even with the reduced stick and shoulder button count of the PSP, only resulting in a minimal change to the standard PS2 and PS3 controls.

I managed to complete this one but I did it on normal since I thought I’d go back for the super hard difficulty later since it needed unlocking (which I’ve previously complained about). I later discovered that I could have just played it on the hard level between normal and super hard and got myself a gold trophy instead 😦 This is definitely a good thing to play while waiting for the next new God of War title!

Castle Crashers

I always thought of this game as a bit of an indie darling with a lot of fans and was interested to know what I’d make of it. When it became available on PlayStation Plus, I thought it would be good to grab and try. If you’ve not seen or played it, the art style is cartoony and the gameplay is very like Golden Axe with the standard jump and hit and then a couple of other buttons. There’s also some elements of character development with attributes you can improve as you play and a range of weapons that you can pick up.

Although it starts off quite easy, I found I was getting hammered in the boss fights and any time that the screen filled up with lots of enemies. I feel like there’s something I’m missing in the controls or gameplay that would simplify it for me or that I could master. There’s other parts of the game that make me believe I’ve missed something too, for example, the relevance of the sections that have no enemies but may have some meaning – I may have to go to gamefaqs to see if I can find some more background.

This currently remains uncompleted due to my predisposition to dying near the end of each level.

Resistance 3

For me Resistance 3 was the beginning of Shooter Season 2011 (as coined and heavily used by Zero Punctuation). Of all the games in the Resistance trilogy, I believe number 3 was the best looking and most playable. I had taken part in the multiplayer beta and although I thought it looked great, I wasn’t impressed with the gameplay at that point and I was worried that the improvement in visual quality had hit performance so hard that it was taking processor time away from gameplay.

The game itself is rather weak in terms of continuity of plot between the different sections and I personally didn’t feel influenced by the story to help the old fella across America. Since the child of your character has the same name as my own, I’d have been happy telling the old guy to jog on and find another sucker. I think the fact that I continued to play the game despite the lack of compulsion by the story is a testament to the quality of the gameplay. I think it was sufficiently varied with each level having something new to do. Before playing, I did watch one of the Developer Diaries which highlighted some of the gameplay changes from Resistance 2 such as being able to switch between all of the weapons you’re carrying, and I think it’s those kinds of changes that made it more accessible and playable.

This was a game that lasted a lot longer than I expected up until the climactic final section of the game, more often making me happy that there was more, rather than wondering when it was going to be over. Strongly recommended if you’re looking for a shooter and I wish there was a Resistance 4 planned.

More shooters from Shooter Season 2011 coming up…