2011 Retrospective: Kevin & Guillaume

2011 Invaders

[Emerging from the swirling time vortex of international timezones, here is the long-awaited final installment of Arcadian Rhythms’ look back over the gaming highs of 2011. 

It’s a bit late. We know. See, what happened was we were playing Achron, and all of a sudden there was, er, let’s say a computer ultravirus, and a bunch of posts we had scheduled kind of went forward in time as part of a strategic manouevre… 

Okay, so we basically lost half of this and found it six weeks later. We are pros.

Enjoy the nostalgia for 2011! -Ed]

2011. It was a year cluttered with triple-A titles and long-awaited sequels, so much so that it’s hard to pick out what I liked best. After a short period of thought, however, I knew most of my picks were the same popular choices as the masses.

My first choice had to be Skyrim. It’s the fifth instalment in the Elder Scrolls series and, having been an avid fan of Morrowind and later Oblivion, I knew this game would be my top pick of the year even before it was released. The scale of the game’s world, the amount of things to do–be they necessary or pointless–and the overall production values overshadow the issues of the game itself and present an experience rarely offered.

By now most people know the base story of Skyrim: you play as the Dovahkiin or Dragonborn, a person born with the soul of a dragon and the ability to absorb the souls of dragons upon killing them. In game terms you use these souls to purchase/unlock ‘shouts’ – dragon powers. How’s the story progress? I can’t tell you yet; why is that? Because Skyrim allows you to move off the beaten path and, for the most part, play the game how you see fit. I’ve roamed all around the land of Skyrim, taking on quests mainly from the village of Whiterun and have yet to complete them all.

More often than not I find myself walking aimlessly, enjoying the environment and trying to do things for no reason other than to see if I can, such as climbing up huge mountains which stretch into the clouds. It reminds me of a time before trophies or achievements when we did crazy things in games for no reason other than to do it, without a point based reward or specific bragging rights.

Although the game has its known bugs–which can be found all over YouTube and other sites–and many exploits, it’s still a fantastic adventure game that doesn’t hold the user back or handhold them like so many other games. Personally I still prefer the land of Morrowind and its story, but Skyrim is a step up from its predecessor Oblivion.

My second choice was simple, Batman: Arkham City. I’m a big comics fan, mainly of Marvel comics, and this was a big fan service offering with tons of nods to various stories in the Batman mythos and lots of possibilities for a sequel. Playing as Batman the player is tossed into the new Arkham Asylum prison in city format with the task of finding out what exactly is going on and stopping whatever the evildoers have planned. The main mission is exciting and a step up from Arkham Asylum, but the real interesting bits are the side missions which are full of great cameos. The Riddler challenges and trophies have been fleshed out into what is almost a game in themselves which I found myself constantly getting side-tracked into playing.

I apologize for rushing to my third and final choice but there’s little more that needs to be said about Skyrim and Arkham City, since most gamers this year have played one or both. Most haven’t heard of my third choice unless you frequent the iTunes App Store as I do in search of gems for the iOS. The game I’ve chosen to single out is Tiny Tower.

Tiny Tower is pretty much an iOS version of Sim Tower with the sole purpose of building your tower ever upwards, with floors consisting of Food, Service, Recreation, Retail, Creative and Residential room types. The “Bitizens”–the citizens of your Tiny Tower–move into Residential floors and then, based on their skillsets, the player can assign them to other created stores. These stores then respond differently to the skill level of the Bitizen or if the job is their dream job.

The elevator used to move the various Bitizens and guests around can be upgraded using Tower Bux, one of two forms of currency in the game. The currency is split between coins, which can be earned by the businesses within the tower or by the rent of Bitizens, and the Tower Bux, which are earned by various things such as building a new story or placing a Bitizen in their dream job. Coins can be used to build new floors which build in real time, which gets longer as the floors get higher, and can be used to stock stores with more products, which are also stocked in real time. The Tower Bux are used for upgrades to the elevator as mentioned before, customizing various elements of the tower, and speeding up processes which usually operate in real time.

Bitizens aside the game’s other characters are the VIPs. There’s the Construction Worker who speeds construction time, the Delivery Man who speeds stocking time, the Celebrity who increases traffic in a store, the Big Spender who buys out the entire stock of one item on a floor, and the Real Estate Agent who moves the maximum number of Bitizens into an apartment (five).

This simplistically beautiful iOS title hooked me. I found myself checking on my tower progress on every break at work and constantly during my free time outside work. Thanks to all the titles which have come out in 2011 I have managed to pull myself away from Tiny Tower, but even now that I’ve reacted the 52nd story there still seems to be no end in sight for my tower. Even if I ignore the game it will continue to progress as best as it can without my input.

The game is free on the iTunes App Store and no purchase is necessary unless the player wishes to truly speed the process up by purchasing Tower Bux via credit card. I highly recommend anyone with an iOS platform check this game out, succumb to it, and lose as much time to the tiny Bitizens as I have.

Guillaume

Guillaume’s partially remembered/forgotten Year of Gaming, 2011 edition!

2011 turned out to be a year of rediscovery: rediscovery of games I’ve had for a while now and of many, if not exclusively, games which came out prior to 2011.

The first game I can think of is FarCry 2. Wait, was it last year that I played it senselessly? Let’s assume it was this year just so I have an excuse to talk about FarCry 2. I picked it up again a couple of days ago and forgot how shit I am at the game after so much time spent on Aliens vs Predator 2010, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl and… well, basically any other shooter which grasps the fundamentals of ballistic behaviours. I had forgotten how all of FarCry 2‘s guns aside from sniper rifles are to be considered such short-range weapons that you might as well call them melee weapons. I always end up going for the kill with the machete in the end since at least I can be sure it won’t jam. I also forgot FarCry 2 had no flashlight or night vision. I forgot I wasn’t playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I think I forgot what I found appealing in the game… wait, YES! The bots… I mean, the NPCs. Honestly, that’s what kept me going.

The other night I found there was an update for the game. Hoping it would fix the notorious ”65% progression save corrupting” bug, I found it actually just reset all the diamond locations on my maps. I still had my diamonds; I just couldn’t tell which of the suitcases had been opened and which had yet to be opened. Or is it that the locations found on the maps are those I’ve already found to begin with? […] Yeah, ok. I just talked to AJ and that’s how it works.

I still think some way to see in the cold dark jungle nights other than using a vehicle’s headlights wouldn’t be too much to ask!

Wow, I forgot mostly everything about FarCry 2. But I think I’ll let it go now; I’m afraid playing it more would tarnish the memory I have of it not sucking and also of me not sucking at it.

I mentioned AVP 2010 before; I also picked it up this year. I’ve enjoyed the campaign more than the multiplayer mostly because, AVP 2010 being what it is and this year being 2011, no one is playing that thing anymore… other than the elite few who religiously fight on until the next Aliens/Predator game comes out. I’d be tempted to think those players would be on PC but the few encounters I’ve had online showed a distinct disparity in the gaming population. Of the few who actually played it I’d say slightly more than half the people online appear to be average Joes (like me) who probably picked up the game on sale whilst the rest are the elite who will give anyone a challenge or kill you before you can even feel challenged. Getting the 360 version of the game may not have been the wisest of choices since I had enjoyed the previous releases on PC, but what can I say, I have an old machine only capable of running older games decently. Like Oblivion.

Speaking of Oblivion, Skyrim has been installed on a machine which has 3 times the resources my machine has and it failed to run at more than HALF the performance I’m getting from Oblivion on my machine (which is running double the level of detail of Skyrim). Do the math.

So I didn’t bother installing/playing Skyrim this year. And I am quite infuriated that the 360 – that thing which also runs Oblivion but not as good-looking as my Oblivion on PC – can run Skyrim better than I run Oblivion. THAT THING HASN’T CHANGED ITS HARDWARE SINCE 2005, WHY SHOULD I GET 5 TIMES THE MACHINE I HAD BACK THEN TO DO THE SAME THING TODAY??? *Ahem.* Enough about lazy developers or potential conspiracy theorizing on how said devs are paid to be lazy so the PC gamers pay for their past, present and future – read: constant – crimes of piracy by being forced to upgrade their machines, paying hundreds of dollars to be able to play games which the console market handles with ease. Right. Moving on to…

S.T.A.L.K.E.R? Yes. I’ve played two of those this year! The first one and the third one. I won’t be playing the fourth anytime EVER, although I suspect it will appear in the form of ”Metro 2034”, but that’s another story (and more speculation).

I got to rediscover the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with the Complete Mod by artistpavel. Finally, I got to complete the game. The experience has been so enriched compared to the original that I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of that mod before and LIVED without it for so long. Now I’m about to re-rediscover the game, this time by installing a Russian-made mod compilation (I forgot the name) that a good friend suggested I should try. Apparently, it would make me forget about the Complete Mod, so outstanding it is, but all I know is that it’s got a few good points in its favour so far but the only one I can think about is vehicles! For those who don’t know, they were in the original design AND alpha versions of the game but were cut out (along with many other awesome features) before release.

Call of Pripyat, the third S.T.A.L.K.E.R, turned out to be very refreshing after I modified a couple of POV settings and installed a mod or two. Knowing I could run it more smoothly than the first game before even starting on modding it AND with more details is quite satisfying (more satisfying than Skyrim, that’s for sure). And the campaign got me. I always wanted to be a military S.T.A.L.K.E.R; I dunno why. I know they were jerks in the first game, shooting you on sight all the time, but I guess since I felt they were the over-powered ”in control” jerks which COULD crush all the other factions, but don’t just because they aren’t ORDERED to, seemed kinda cool. I secretly like to think they are jerks just because they are ordered to be. Now, to be an under-cover military agent? Even cooler. Not being shot on sight by the military? Much appreciated.

I’ve rediscovered the game within the same year I’ve discovered it by installing the original Russian voices. Not only are those much better than the English voice acting, but they are in many cases less annoying. Well, there’s the downside wherein most people – myself included – won’t understand anything, but it isn’t too bad. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:

– if a guy puts his gun back and talks to me, waving his hand or doing nothing, I take it he wants to trade/talk.
– if he points his gun at me and stands his ground, I think he wants me to get the f*** out/lower my gun.
– if he riflewhips me to the FACE and disarms me, it’s the ‘friendly’ warning sign as to NOT keep my gun up inches from his face any longer.
– if he points his gun at me and backs away while raising the tone of his voice, I think I should take my gun out and start shooting since he probably is doing that right now as this very thought crosses my mind OR sprint in the opposite direction if I’m low on ammo and hope he’s gonna be a shitty shot.

It’s easy to communicate in the Zone. It’s all about body language, really.

I won’t be spending much time on EDF:IA or MindJack because… I feel I haven’t spent ENOUGH time on those two masterpieces. I remember both being really great fun, but I definitely need to play more MindJack. At least complete the game and jack the mind of more gorillas. I’ll go back to them, that’s for sure. At this rate, probably only in 2012. So many games, too little time. And I haven’t even mentioned anything about the XBLA releases. Guardian Heroes HD? Awesome. Renegade Ops? Wicked fun.

I’d comment on Sonic’s Classic Collection but as soon as I picked it up it felt like it was the early nineties again and not 2011, so I don’t think it should count… but I’ll still talk about it because I love Sonic, dammit.

As much as it’s a near-perfect emulation, a Nintendo console has yet to fully emulate the ‘Mega Genesis Drive’. I was a bit disappointed, really. I expected the DS to be capable of managing that. Given how the GBA failed miserably at such a task with the forgettable release of Sonic the Hedgehog 15th anniversary edition, thanks to its considerably more primitive architecture compared to the DS (but still ”the equivalent of several SNES taped together” or so Nintendo claimed at the release of the GBA), I figured the DS would at least be the equivalent of one or even two ‘Genesis Drive Megas’! The frame rate in the DS re-release of Sonic games is satisfying, which is a relief when thinking back to the less-than-5-frames-per-seconds Sonic the Hedgehog on GBA. Sounds will bug out every now and then and the resolution of the DS takes away from the original, but aside from all that: being able to play Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles on the bus without having to own a Nomad and being able to play for more than 2 hours? Priceless.