Keep the lights on

Boy, if you asked me a decade ago which games would be affected by the growth of the Internet, I... well, wouldn't have really had much to say on it, so I suppose it's kind of silly to say this wouldn't have been one of them.

The light of the Crystal, great, but can we talk a little more about the light of the server’s power indicator?

When Final Fantasy IX first released, it had a whole companion website, PlayOnline.  The site was an in-depth interactive walkthrough for the entire game, filled with database information, all the stuff you could possibly want from a site devoted to a single game.  The site was also designed to work with people who had bought the strategy guide, which tied into parts of the website wherein players could enter codes and see additional tips and tricks about a given area of the game.

That was dumb all by itself.  But it makes the owners of the strategy guide look even more silly now, because that walkthrough site is gone.  It doesn’t exist any more.  The URL is now devoted to Final Fantasy XI, after Square’s grand ideas about that service’s functionality fell through.

You might say that it’s irrelevant, and it certainly is.  But it speaks to an issue with a lot of games that were launching around the same time that the century turned, and one of the features that gaming is still struggling to deal with.  Everyone knows, of course, that online functionality is important.  It’s also not free, and the graveyards are littered with the bones of functions that got torn away.

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The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV, part 4

I don't expect it to last, but it'll be nice while it does.

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

The last time around for this column, things really picked up in Final Fantasy IV.  Betrayals, loss, sabotage, and other unpleasant events!  It was nifty.  For the audience, anyway.  For Cecil, it’s kind of a pile of crap, as he’s lost literally everything yet again and now has no idea where in the hell he is.  If you told him he had died and gone to hell, it would be pretty believable.

What little good news Cecil has at the moment (i.e. the fact that he’s not dead) is quickly undone once you realize where you are.  Remember the very beginning of the game, when Cecil was returning from a successful campaign to steal the crystal from Mysidia?  Yep.  Here we are, back again.  It’s not mentioned at any point if the people in Mysidia tend to hold grudges, but given that plenty of people will cast status spells on you and otherwise ruin poor solitary Cecil’s day, I’m going to go ahead and say that they do.

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Hard Project: Front Mission

And when I do, it's only usually my fault.

Oh, they did all right. I don’t trip over my own feet all that often.

I like Front Mission a lot.  Except I don’t, not really; I like the tiny amount of it that I’ve played a lot, which amounts to two officially localized games, two other games handled as a fan translation project, and a whole lot of carefully researched side materials.  It’s possible that there’s something within the other chunk of the games and supplementary materials that would change my entire viewpoint, I don’t know, but you’d think that there would be more than a fragment of the 11-game-strong series over here.

The entire franchise appears to be consigned to die the death of a small yappy dog now, and while I’m sad about that, I can kind of understand it.  Sure, the people in charge had ideas about where to take the franchise next, and that’s a good thing.  But the overall scope of the thing is a hard project to take on, and after the by-all-accounts-execrable Front Mission Evolved, perhaps the challenge was just too great for too little reward.

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Demo Driver 8: Tomb Raider: Underworld (#148)

Bad kitty.

Nyan nyan nyan etc.

I have said in the past that prior to the reboot, I’ve never had much interest in tombs or the raiding thereof.  I’m aware that a lot of people do like the franchise and it has things to recommend it; I’m also aware that it tends to be buggy and filled with somewhat dodgy play control, coupled with a lead character that’s long jumped back and forth between cheesecake titillation and being a remarkably confident and self-assured lady in charge.  It was, as a whole, something I could live without.

Tomb Raider: Underworld is sort of the immediate precursor to the reboot, so in some ways it’s kind of similar and in others it’s completely different.  It’s an interesting peak at what was the apex of the original design progression (even if it was itself part of a rebooted series), as well as a look at why the franchise needed to be rebooted again a few scant years later.  As an actual game… well, that’s another story.

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Telling Stories: Fueling the maze-builders

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.Two weeks ago, I put forth what I think is a fairly simple philosophy for getting storylines moving in games – I don’t build the story.  I just lay out tools, and the other people involved happily build the maze themselves with a minimum of prompting from me.  I’m proud of the article and think it’s pretty completely on-point.  What I didn’t go into depth about was how you do that.

Sure, it’s all well and good to say you assemble tools, but I’m willing to bed that if you put some lumber and some tools in the yard and then hide, you will not find people coming by just to build you a shed.

A lot of it comes down to tricks that work during tabletop roleplaying and are easily ported to roleplaying arcs just as easily, with a few added tricks brought on by the nature of the beast.  So once you’ve got a plan in mind, it’s time to start putting your tools in place and using them to let players assemble a maze you never even had to sculpt.

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