All About GabuEx
You might've noticed by now that I haven't been around much. I wish I were here to tell you that the reason for that has come to an end, but... well, unfortunately, I'm afraid it hasn't. So if you really want to know where I've been, then sit for a spell and let me tell you the tale of The Incredible Shrinking Community.
I first joined GameSpot in May of 2006, although it wasn't until 2007 that I actually started becoming active around GameSpot. Things started pretty small. At around that time I was pretty much accepting all comers in terms of friend requests and union invites, since I only had a few. Some of the few unions I remember I first joined were a Nintendo union, a NiGHTS union, and a Guitar Hero union. I met a lot of great people through those unions, many of whom I've sadly long since lost contact with, and it was that that really started getting me hooked on GameSpot - that really got me thinking that the community here at GameSpot was something special, something I'd seldom encountered before in the past.
It was then around February of 2008 that I got the official invitation to be a moderator at GameSpot. Given my love for the community, that was a no-brainer: of course I said "yes". After becoming a moderator, I became even more involved in the community, and became a regular poster both in OT and in the Wii forum, becoming effectively the official moderator representation for the latter forum after JordanElek stepped down from his moderator position. Around this time I joined even more unions, like the Monkeys Writing Shakespeare Union, and met even more people. In short, life was good. I really liked it here.
Over time, things slowly seemed to start to change. The first big change, obviously, was the departure of Jeff Gerstmann, which was quickly followed both by other editors and by several users at GameSpot. That was pretty early on, however, and didn't affect me that much.
As more time went on, though, some of the unions I was in began to fall apart. The Nintendo one, I think, was the first to go. The Guitar Hero union slowly saw user participation fritter away to nothing. Once NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams was released, that union, too, died a slow, unheralded death. Monkeys Writing Shakespeare collapsed, too. One by one, all of the unions I used to frequent became wastelands.
But that was still all right. I was still active on the main forums, and they were great. For a while, at least. The Wii forum I especially liked, since it seemed to be a place that was more or less free of undue negativity, compared to other places around GameSpot. And OT was a great place to have quality conversations.
Slowly but surely, however, those changed as well. The Wii forum started to become less and less enjoyable to post to, and over time I found myself posting less and less in the main forum and posting more to the Off-Topic Lounge. OT, as well, seemed to be less welcoming, and I posted there almost exclusively to debate. During my very first OTcars, I tied Hungry_Bunny for Nicest User; subsequently, I wasn't even nominated for that, and only won the awards for most intelligent user and best debater. Secretly, I was a bit upset about this - I would take being known as a nice guy any day over being known as an intelligent debater. When you're on your deathbed, being an intelligent debater isn't going to make you any friends who will gather around and miss you when you're gone.
Then there was perhaps the straw that broke the camel's back: the Soapbox was removed from the front page of GameSpot. With that - without almost any fanfare at all - my one last real connection to anything resembling a community had been severed. My time here was pretty darn empty by this time, but I didn't know it at the time. It took something shocking - something that I never expected to become a fan of - to truly make me realize just how empty it had become.
OK, I know that just posting that image just lost at least some of you who had been reading up until this moment. But for those of you still with me, let me explain. Actually, before I explain, let me let Jacob Minkoff of Naughty Dog explain better than I could. This picture in particular says about what needs to be said about the show:
This isn't your '80s My Little Pony. This is what you would get if Pixar were to create an incarnation of My Little Pony. Yes, the show drives the sales of pony dolls, but it's way more than that - it's a slice of life show that is smart, witty, cute, fun, and genuinely heartwarming. It's a show with an all-female main cast that manages to be neither tackily girly nor overly sappy; its characters are genuinely interesting and endearing; and its episode plots are really fun to follow, with very positive, yet not anvilicious, messages at the end of each.
The show certainly hooked me; however, the thing that really kept me around long after its first season ended was the community around the show. In a way the community around this show is a lot like what Gabe from Penny Arcade found the Pokemon community to be when he attended a tournament - they've really been affected by it in a positive fashion. I don't mean that in the sense as though they're learning life lessons for the first time upon watching the show; rather, I think it's more just that the show is captivating enough that it's able to just make them think a bit, and realize that, you know, maybe there are other ways to conduct oneself on the internet than being a callous, cynical douche.
Whatever the reasoning or whys or wherefores behind it, I very quickly found that the fandom behind this show is one of the warmest, most welcoming, most downright positive communities I've ever seen on the internet - and, unfortunately, when I compared that against what I got here at GameSpot, well... there wasn't really much of a contest. It unfortunately highlighted for me just how empty my time here at GameSpot had become, which is why I haven't been around here much.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want to disparage anyone here on GameSpot. Individually, there are a lot of wonderful people still present here today. I won't name any of them because I don't want to leave anyone out, but, heck, if you're still reading this after all this time (in which case, bless your heart), then you're probably one of them. And that makes you awesome. Seriously. I love you folks.
I won't say that I'll never be around GameSpot again. That's closing a door that I would never want to close. However, I will say that, because of all of the above, it remains seemingly unlikely that I will be seen around here much in the foreseeable future. If you would like to stay in touch, I can be found at Equestria Forums, or, if you'd prefer to stay away from the show, PM me - I'm more than happy to give you my email address, AIM/MSN/Skype account names, or whatever else would work for you. I don't want this to be goodbye; I just want it to be so long... and, thanks for all the fish. All of you are grand chaps, the lot of you.
Author's note: This is part of a series in which Wootex and I highlight games that are fairly unknown but nonetheless awesome. They are both informative and entertaining, or at least Wootex's are.
Previous edition: 16 - Def Jam: Fight for New York
Rune Factory Frontier
Genre: Farming/RPG hybrid
Developers: Neverland Co.
Release Date: November 27, 2008 (Japan), March 17, 2009 (North America), April 1, 2010 (Europe)
What is it?
Rune Factory Frontier is by far the youngest game to date in this series, having come out in North America only a little over two years ago as of the writing of this article. However, considering the fact that GameSpot never even reviewed it, I think it's safe to say that it already merits being called "unsung". And it's definitely great. And, well, it's also definitely a game. So, in it goes.
Rune Factory Frontier (like the rest of the Rune Factory series) is a pretty weird game, just in terms of its multiple personalities. On one hand, it's got a very strong Harvest Moon vibe going on - a major part of its gameplay is tilling soil, planting crops, watering the crops, and then selling the harvest for money, all while getting to know the people (especially the girls) living in the village you begin to call home. At the same time, however, there are a number of dungeons in the game in which monsters dwell, and in which you have to fight the monsters in order to get further into it. The two really don't seem like they should work together, but they really, really do.
In Rune Factory Frontier, you play the part of Raguna, a young man who left his home in search of a girl named Mist, whom he finds in the tiny village of Trampoli. She convinces him to settle down in this village too (there's an empty yet fully furnished house right next to hers, conveniently enough), and he does. Thus begins his epic quest of planting crops. And harvesting them. And also saving the town of Trampoli while he's at it, since a giant whale-shaped island floating above the town, you find out, is going to shortly fall from the sky down on it if nothing is done.
"I'll take a turnip... and EAT IT."
What's great about it?
Rune Factory Frontier's appeal is actually a lot like that of Animal Crossing - although this game does have a story, it largely takes a back seat to the gameplay. This isn't the sort of game that one will stay up super late playing because one can't pull oneself away from the gripping storyline; rather, it's the sort of game that one will sit down to for a relaxing session during which to unwind. It's also definitely not a game that will appeal to everyone - you'd definitely have to see value in planting digital crops and getting acquainted with a digital village, because that's definitely the core of this game's appeal.
If you do see the appeal in that, however, there's a lot of things to do in Rune Factory Frontier. For starters, the game goes through the four seasons just as the real world does, and in each season there are different crops to be planted and different activities in town to do. Both your house and your equipment (both farming- and battle-related) can be upgraded multiple times and in multiple ways. As you go through the game, you can get a forge, a kitchen, and a lab, in each of which places you can make new equipment and items. The game also has, in total, thirteen girls, as well, with whom you can start up a friendship that can eventually blossom into a relationship.
THAT'S WHAT SHE- oh, never mind.
Of course, you can't do everything the game has to offer in a single day. The game places a number of limiters on your ability to do things in an in-game day - you have a set number of hit points with which you can withstand enemies' attacks; you have a set number of rune points (effectively your stamina) that any given stenuous activity will require and use it; and you have an in-game clock, which dictates what shops are open, what villagers are where, and how late you can stay up before needing to go to bed. Everything you plant requires a set number of days before it's either ripe (in the case of crops) or in bloom (in the case of flowers), as well, so patience is a virtue.
Finally, the game also has a level and skill system, too - as you battle monsters, you gain levels up, making you stronger; and as you do activites around the farm and in battle (tilling, chopping, attacking, forging, etc.), you gain skill levels up, making you more efficient in those activities. These effectively make it so that you can do more in one day and go further in dungeons before needing to turn back - when you first start out, you'll only be able to tend to a small amount of crops and go a little ways into dungeons, whereas the more skilled you get and the higher your level gets, the more you'll be able to get through in the same day. Upgrades to farming equipment as well makes them more efficient - for example, upgrading your watering can one level enables you to water three squares in one go, instead of just one. Which is good, since the amount of farmland available in the game is massive.
I AM FARMING THE **** OUT OF THIS PLACE RIGHT NOW
The bottom line
This is really one of those games where it's pointless to dwell on it too long - if you're going to like it, you're probably already thinking about looking into it by this time, whereas if you're not going to like it, you've probably already decided that this sounds really stupid. If you are still considering it, though, it comes highly recomended in my books - it's a great game for a rainy day, one that offers great relaxation and casual fun. Check it out!
Ambitious and meticulous, but falls short in terms of enjoyment and engagement.
I know people are already preparing their flamethrowers in response to the above score, so let me say up front that this was a very painful score to give. I really, really wanted to love L.A. Noire. The extent to which its creators gave it their time, their care, their dedication, and their all shine through like the noon sun on a cloudless sky. This game has all the makings of greatness. Yet, I would be lying to my readers if I didn't say that I found it to ultimately fall short in terms of emotional engagement and interest, or rather, its lack thereof. I still like it. But I can't bring myself to love it.
Before I go any further, though, let's back up a bit and go over the factual specifics about the game. In L.A. Noire, you play as Cole Phelps, a World War II veteran who made his mark in the Pacific campaign and earned the Silver Star there, and then joined the police force upon his return home. He begins the game as a patrolman, but after a series of successes (which also double as the game's tutorial missions), he is promoted to detective, at which point the real meat of the game begins.
"From this, I deduce that something probably caused blood to get on this door."
Over the course of the game, which is fairly lengthy - it spans 3 discs on the Xbox 360 and took me a considerable amount of time to finish, well into the double-digits of hours - Phelps will go through four different desks on the force, those being traffic, homicide, vice, and arson. During his stay in each desk, he'll be tasked with solving crimes within that field. For example, while working traffic, he gets a case of two people found unconscious in a car that slammed into a sign, with ample evidence of foul play; on the other hand, while working homicide, he gets a case of a woman strangled to death and then left in the middle of a park. Many of these cases have a unifying theme between them that links some of them together, as Phelps comes to realize that the crimes are related.
There are four different modes of gameplay in the game, and any given case can easily transition between all four before it's solved. First, there's investigation - this involves combing through a scene of a crime or a scene of interest (such as a suspect's house), looking for any clues pertinent to the case. When Phelps comes across something of interest, the controller vibrates and a chime sounds, alerting you to the fact that you might have found something. Second, there's interrogation - this involves asking a person a series of questions. Each time the person responds, you have the option of either believing the person and asking for further detail, of casting doubt on what the person said, or of accusing the person of lying and presenting evidence indicating as much. Choosing correctly allows Phelps to gain additional clues and insight into the case. Third, there are chases - these typically involve chasing a fleeing suspect through the streets of L.A., either in a car on on foot, trying to make the suspect stop so he or she can be apprehended. Fourth, there are gunfights - these are basically what it says on the tin: you have a number of bad guys with guns trying to kill you and your job is to kill them all.
Professional not-giving-a-damn guy Cole Phelps celebrates another successful ass-kicking session.
To be sure, L.A. Noire has a lot going for it, and I'm sure that someone who places more emphasis on that would give this game a very different score than I've given it. For starters, the game is a very good showcase for Rockstar's new facial capture technology, which combines the reading from several cameras around the person to get a 3D model of the person's face. Although the technology still has a ways to go - they really need to figure out how to better synchronize the face with the body - it goes a long way just as they claimed it would towards closing the so-called "uncanny valley", that being the situation where 3D models look very realistic, but don't "act human", making the viewer well aware that they're not looking at a real human being.
The attention to detail in the game, as well, is just jaw-dropping. The game has hundreds and hundreds of blocks of 1940s Los Angeles, all rendered in an extremely faithful form - the people, the cars, the buildings, the billboards, the prices, the phone numbers, the products: everything feels just like it's actually from the 1940s. The crimes, as well, are in fact also authentic, insofar as they're inspired by actual crimes that occurred in Los Angeles in the 1940s (an example), although they have of course been sufficiently fictionalized in order to fit the video game. The extent to which Team Bondi went to create a real, 1940s Los Angeles experience, is truly commendable.
A staple of film noir: only having enough lighting budget for half the screen.
Unfortunately, however, the excellent parts of the game are largely aesthetic in nature, while the more negative parts of the game are more integral. For starters, I found the story in the game to be, unfortunately, just not that interesting when all was said and done. Despite threads tying them together and attempting to make them a unified whole, the cases in the game were largely overly segregated and felt too episodic in nature. There were repeat offenders between cases, for sure, but that was far in the background, and the immediate facts in each case presented basically a brand new selection of suspects, victims, witnesses, and so forth, never really giving the game a chance to go very deep into any train of thought. Furthermore, because every case saw brand new faces, there was actually very little bona fide character development or intra-character chemistry in the game at all. The few situations where there were recurring characters who did interact with each other multiple times, it never failed to feel superficial, either - by the end of the game, I really didn't feel as though I knew any of the characters much better than when they were first introduced. There were a few glimmerings of character development in the course of the game, but they were fleeting.
Two of the four game modes enumerated above also were, in my evaluation, not done very well at all. The investigation portions of the game was one of them. There's no real obvious indicator regarding what's a clue and what's just part of the background, so investigations often degrade into just wandering around aimlessly, hoping to feel your controller vibrate in response to something that you may not even be able to see, and then just repeating that until the location is crossed off in the pause screen, indicating that you've found everything. This can get very tedious and boring, and really does not advance anything in the game much. You can use "intuition points", which you pick up by doing well in the game, in order to reveal all of the clues hidden in an area - but then that's basically just cheating.
"I have successfully deduced that this is in fact a pipe. So we can cross 'not a pipe' off the list of hypotheses."
The other mode in the game that wasn't done very well was the interrogations. These were supposed to be the prime showcase of the game's facial capture technology, since you're supposed to need to watch the subject and try to tell whether or not they're being truthful, but the very simplistic and arbitrary nature of much of these portions of the game more or less kill any engagement that they might otherwise have contained. For starters, to determine whether the person is being truthful or not, there's basically just three signs to look for: does the person respond in a very abrupt manner, does the person's eyes dart around like they've got a contact lens caught in them, and does the person visibly swallow repeatedly? If any of those are true, the person's probably not being truthful.
Even if you know that this is the case, though, the difference between the three options is not very well-established, either. As it happens, "Truth" is basically only selected when the person is giving you the 100%, swear-to-God, whole, full truth; if the person is even just not mentioning something on the side, you may need to pick "Doubt" or "Lie" even if what they said was probably true. And even if you know it's "Doubt" or "Lie", it's often not at all obvious which is correct, since the meaning behind each clue is not always immediately apparent. As such, interrogations would often boil down to just a plain old coin flip for me, with no obvious indicators telling me one way or another. Needless to say, this does not make for very interesting gameplay.
I should give kudos where it's due, though: the chases and gunfights were significantly better and more exciting than these two modes.
"I'd say the staple line of 'we can do this the easy way or the hard way' here, but frankly this game doesn't give the option of the easy way. So that would be a lie."
The game also has very little replay value once it's done, as well. Unlike GTA, you play as a cop in this game, so there isn't much sandbox fun to be had at citizens' expense. There are "street crimes" that you can attend to if you so choose, which are basically side missions not related to the main case, but these tend to be short, and have nothing at all to do with the main story, as far as I could tell, so these don't make for very interesting adventures, and by the end of the game I was just completely ignoring requests the game prompted me with to deal with street crime.
The soundtrack in the game wasn't remarkable, but at the same time that's kind of to be expected - the soundtrack was definitely faithful both to the 1940s and to the film noir genre, so I can't fault them too much for that.
All in all, L.A. Noire is a very polarized game. What it does well, it does really, really well. What it doesn't do well, however, it does quite poorly indeed. Its aesthetics and attention to detail are absolutely top-notch, but its story, characters, and gameplay leave much to be desired. What one concludes about the worth of L.A. Noire will thus depend very heavily on what one values. As I value story and characters very highly, the game's lack of creativity and interest in those areas killed it for me. One who doesn't care so much about those aspects could quite easily like the game significantly more.
The bottom line I'd give is that if you want to check out Rockstar's new facial capture technology, or if you want to experience a game that very faithfully recreates Los Angeles as it was in the 1940s, then you should definitely check out L.A. Noire. If on the other hand you're looking for an engaging detective story with great characters and a gripping narrative, then you might want to look elsewhere.
My Recent Reviews
The video version of Unsung Greats of Gaming, Part 17: Rune Factory Frontier.
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The video version of Unsung Greats of Gaming, Part 15: Blazing Dragons.
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