Gaming Garage

Welcome! This hub is dedicated to my observances related to video games.

Reviews

Bastion | The Elder Scrolls IV: OblivionFinal Fantasy X and X-2 HD Remaster | Prototype | Prototype 2Saints Row series | Steam Controller (hardware)

Meditative Focus

In this section are my expanded thoughts on parts of a game that really made me think. If I like a game personally, or strongly recommend it, there is probably some thought that has run through my head.

All thoughts expressed within this heading are my own, and do not reflect the intent of their creators.

Coming Soon!

Designer Notes

I like to look at one element of video games as a whole. World building, observations on common elements, and mechanics both internal and external will be expounded upon.

Gamebreaking | Magical Industry | Achievements | Xbox One Reveal

Final Fantasy XI: Wildskeeper Reives | Artifact Armor 99+ | Record of Eminence | Trust

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Perfect Character Guide – A labor of love in every sense. In my time with Oblivion on the 360, I managed to hone a method of maxing out character stats. This is probably the first dive I made into a games’ system. (Sept. 29, 2017: I noticed the links to this are no longer working. I will be correcting this in the coming month.)


“What’s your angle?”, you may ask. What do I bring to the table conversation of video games online that is unique? In my background I have been an actor and theater technician. In my venues I have been responsible for world building. Characters, costumes, sets, lighting and sound schemes. It is an art. I view the making of video games in a similar fashion. Being someone who now wishes to make one of many games I draw heavily on these skills. Moreover, I enjoy games. I understand the commitment to a craft that is only one portion of of a wider whole. I want to enjoy the games that I play. I am biased to see the good. But I am realistic in what is not.

On a personal side, these are my notes from the games that I play. The elements worth remembering. The reasons why I play these games, and why I think you should too, if they are a medium of your choice. And if they aren’t, I want you to see what people get from games today. I hope that these will help other writers and actors, and anyone else who is a creative type.

Bias Points

There are certain traits that get me excited for any new media. I have seen the favoritism play out in my scoring, so I want to be upfront about these aspects here.

New (to me) Companies

In this, The Digital Age, the bar to entry has been lowered for many creative endeavors. This blog could be considered a publication. I own a version of RPG Maker for trying to create a video game. All this can be put online for the world to see whenever I am ready. I am always willing to take a look at something made by a publisher, company or creator that I haven’t heard of before. Sometimes a lone creator can make a viral sensation, such as Five Nights at Freddy’s. And when these successes catch fire, the teams behind them can then try to work on an expanded scale.

For this, let me bring attention to Kiro’o Games. They are the makers of Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan. They are a company from Central Africa. This is the first time I had heard of a game coming out of the continent. While my tangential learning has afforded me a wide breadth of knowledge, African culture is ironically still foreign to me. I was excited, and well pleased, with what came about. And I have a little more than I started with in the way of (an) African culture, and that is invaluable to me. I look forward to what will come out of this company next, because they will tell stories I can’t even imagine.

Original Intellectual Properties

Ever since the Star Wars prequel films I have noticed an upward trend of rebooting old properties and everything trying to be at least a trilogy. For companies and investors, there is a safety in brand recognition. I love seeing new worlds. If this is from a new company it is understandable. But I can also appreciate when established companies take a gamble.

Take the Final Fantasy series. One thing I loved was that each game was unique. The story and music most certainly, but even the mechanics could change from title to title. You’d have nods, throwbacks, and homages. But each game would be brand new, and not rely on the world built in a previous title.

In this age I feel as though many franchises will jump the shark and keep on going. It takes courage to tie one world up and start another. I like to recognize this choice. Additionally, this point opens the path for the others more easily.

Overall, I tend to suspend my disbelief for the entirety of a game. As long as an element of the game does not cause me to have a WTF moment from start to finish, without discernible reason, it will usually get a favorable point from me. These include Story, Settings, Music, and Controls.

If you came here from Steam, you’ll see more than a TL;DR summary of each game. I can speak at length, and as this is my site I do just that. Scoring systems are common. I appreciate their simplicity, but I value greater nuance. Below is my scoring method.

10+
My Personal Favorites

I am certain that there will be titles that come along that will blow me away, jaded as I may be from a lifetime of gaming. On the one hand, I do hope this is rare as not to dilute my assessments in whole. On the other… I’d really love to be swamped with such titles.

Bastion

10
My Personal Recommendation

A simple 10, all things considered, is something that I feel that my time was well spent on. I know that people have wildly varying tastes. These titles are compelling enough that I will buy them for friends if they have the interest and I have the currency.

Saints Row series namely The Third, IV, and Gat Out of Hell.

9~7
Good to Excellent

I like to think that I will wind up ranking most of what I play here. I can see the effort that goes into a work. As long as the result is palatable I am willing to overlook flaws for the sake of the whole.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and many Bethesda titles, especially before ironing out wrinkles.

6~4
Not “Bad” but “Interesting”

Some people appreciate B Movies and pulpy narratives. I can appreciate games that, while not perhaps what many would look for, have resounding redeeming merit. These are often games that would likely come from smaller companies, first time creators, or may be experimental in one way or another.

          e.g. – Nihilumbra. It is WONDERFUL game. The story is poignant, the music rich, the world interesting. Limiting it to a 6 is hurtful to me, as it could easily hold a debate at an 8. However, it is a PC only title near as I know, and requires a keyboard and mouse. These elements may limit the potential audience and turn some off completely.

Worth noting here, a 5 is likely the lowest score I will regularly consider for any game. There has to be some glaring flaw before I would even consider a lesser grade.

3~1
Not my bag, may be yours

I am not prone to out and out dislike. I try to keep in mind the effort that went into games. As I hold game making as a collective art form, I understand that I just do not “get” every piece produced. I will voice my opinions. But as with all things I will list the merits that I see. Converse to the other side of the scale, my 9~7 range, I see the whole but cannot overlook the flaws.

          e.g. – The Legend of Dragoon. I know… an old game. Even when it was a brand new game I did not find it compelling. The characters felt two dimensional, the music was not memorable, the combat system was unique which is not odd for RPGs. The joy the nuance provide wore off when I had to manually enter the combos the whole game. Coming on four discs you would actually have to switch to earlier discs to return to earlier towns. Most aggravating to me is that the internal logic of the world was not adhered to. But I know people that LOVE this game. So I will admit that it is liked, just NOT by me.

0
Can afford to be missed

Titles that, having played them, cause me to lament at my lost time. That, when asked if it was a good game and if it was worth playing that my response was “Just… No.” Again, a mirror to the other side. I hope there are few of these as not to dilute my assessments. Moreover, I pray they are rare because I have precious little time as it is.

          e.g. – Final Fantasy XIII series. I played XIII twice fully, and ward people away. I played XIII-2 fully, and vehemently tell people not to play it. The story was a major flip-off to every player, and I can appreciate an unfavorable ending. Not this one. Lightning Returns is a rare game that I did not complete. I realized too late that I would likely need a guide to complete it properly. That chaffed enough that I put it down and never picked it back up.

With the ranking nuances explained, allow me to share with you my current template so you know what my breakdowns are.

Summary Card
Rank
Genre(s)
Comparable Games, if any
Price – This will be the games’ non-sale price at the time of writing as I can find it. A number in parenthesis (#) indicates the total cost of the base game plus the least amount of money that can be spent to still get all available DLC. DLC, in this instance, refers to add-ons useable in game. Soundtracks and art books will not be considered here.
Available Systems
Bias Points

Opening
Here I’ll detail what history I have with the game, what led me to it, and a general sense of what I took away. This is one of the more casual portions of my reviews. Eventually I will be able to stop comparing games to the 360 version.

Story Premise
Consider this a mixture of “Back of the Box” summary, opening cinematics, tutorials, and the first few hours of gameplay. I want to express the stakes of the story. As I try to avoid spoilers, I will usually include in the story built well or if the payoff was worth playing the game. I’ll also share if I found the tale to be an enjoyable one, all things said and done. As noted above, I am biased towards a well relayed story. If it has depth I care little for the length.

Core Idea, Philosophy, or Meditative Focus

Occasionally I will be able to insert what ideas and thoughts a game left me with and not drift off into a tangent. I will share these ideas here, and perhaps leave a link to an expanded article later on.

Themeing
How we as players perceive the world of the game. This may regard how character helps highlight details of the world. How color evokes an overall mood and how music can heighten the experience. If the Bias Points of Setting and Music were earned, I will expound upon them here. There will sometimes be bleed over with Mechanics.

e.g. – Silent Hill had “alpha fog”, which limited how far you could see. As a horror game this reinforced suspense.

Mechanics
How we as players interact with the world the game. This section will be about leveling systems, how controls are handled, and generally any agency the player can take with the controller. If Controls were included in Bias Points above, I’ll give a further explanation in this section.This may also cover how technology was used to reinforce other points via themeing.

e.g. – Referring back to Silent Hill’s alpha fog, this was a design choice as systems of the day could not render vast distances with ease. Mechanically, the fog kept the game running, but it worked for the themeing as stated above. This was good.

Conversely, recall the first Mass Effect game. Commander Shepard is an elite soldier. But if you try to use a sniper rifle, Shepherd won’t hold it steady until you’ve put enough points into it. I understand this mechanically. It is an RPG, and putting points into skills is how progress occurs. But when I, who eschews firearms, am a steadier shot than an elite soldier from the future it snaps me out of the games’ immersion. This was bad.

Replay Value
Do you get sufficent bang for your buck. Is the game enjoyable enough that you’d want to play it more than once? Is it entertaining enough to go through multiple times if achievements and trophies somehow call for them? Is the game worth full asking price, or should you wait for a sale? Is the DLC of worth, or not worth even considering? This will likely rehash and expand upon “Price” from the Summary Card.

Community
While I tend to stick to single player games, if I find that the community around a game is worth extolling I will do just that. This can be everything from meta-commentary to mod support.

Closing
I’ll sum up my rant and hit on the major points again for emphasis. I’ll also give my thoughts on in what way I think the game is worthwhile. Should everyone experience it at least once? Is it for a niche audience? Should it be avoided outright? I am able to recognize my biases. And I will voice them if it will shade my review. As indicated above, I do not think the Final Fantasy XIII series is at all worthwhile. But the same elements I dislike may indicate a strong RPG to others.  In serving you, my readers, I will give an honest assessment as to the caliber of the games. If I think it is bad, but still worth playing, you’ll hear me say so. If it is good, but with GLARING flaws, I’ll say that too.

I am prone to hope and I have hope here. As I move forward and can access new games as they are released I hope you can look to me and trust my assessments. Failing that, I hope you find some value in them.

Addendum
PC Replay – Years ago I was gearing up and trimming fat to travel abroad. In this, I decided to compile all my gaming into a computer rather than having a separate console. Those plans have changed (though I still aspire to them), and so has the computer I have used. Finally being able to run all the games that I bought to replace what my console held is going to let me review some games publicly for the first time, and revisit others that I had originally written. As the lions’ share of these are 360 era games, or have sequels in the modern one, spoilers will likely abound. I’ll include a tag as a warning.

On the replay list…

Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan
Bayonetta
Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Legacy of Kain: Defiance
Mark of the Ninja
Marvel Ultimate Alliance
Transistor
Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain
Brutal Legend
Darksiders (Warmastered Edition)
Darksiders II (Deathinitive Edition)
Dust: An Elysian Tale
Disgaea PC
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy IX
The Last Remnant
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Final Fantasy XI

And that’s my list. The games that I gave examples of in my scoring will be getting treatments first. Thanks for reading all this way. I look forward to this page getting shorter as I write and link more to be read.

Italicized titles indicate I have played the game on another system. Their reviews may be filled with “when I played the game on 360, etc.” references. When I have made my way through all my games, I will likely use italics to indicate play on more than one system. If only part of the title is italicized then I played an earlier version on an earlier system. e.g. I played Devil May Cry 4 on PS3 and Xbox 360, but this was WELL before the Special Edition was introduced.

 

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