Double Fine Zone

Double Fine Zone

I decided not do do the last section of my Games of 2011 articles. Been fairly busy. I was just sitting here waiting for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception to come via UPS, and I decided to do an update. Double Fine Productions has been on my mind. Trenched was suppose to receive an update that would add a Horde type mode to the game, as well as change the name to Iron Brigade. Psychonauts got a huge update via Steam. Achievements, graphical tweaks, and other tweaks were added to the game (fantastic for a six year old game). Costume Quest is a Halloween themed game, that I just bought. Double Fine makes great and funny games. I love Time Schafer and his team at Double Fine.

First off, if you have not bought Trenched yet, you should. It’s on XBLA for $15 and it’s a fun downloadable title, especially if you have friends. It’s tower defense meets third person mech game, and its fun to kill enemies and collect weapons. You can customize your trenches with those weapons, and different mech load outs. It’s just a great game, and I’m looking forward to the update that adds the unending wave mode.

The main reason I was thinking about Double Fine games is because of Psychonauts. I bought it a few years ago on Steam because I didn’t own an original XBox (and didn’t know it came to PC or PS2). I played and beat it earlier this year and it quickly jumped to one of my favorite games of all times. With the new update that added achievements, I figured it was a great excuse to play this great game again. The dialogue in this game is so funny. You’ll wander around talking to everyone, and everything, just so you don’t miss a funny line. The dialogue isn’t the only good thing about this game. The gameplay and level design are topnotch. It’s your standard 3D platformer, but the level design makes it outstanding. You enter the minds of people and each person has a themed level. These level feels unique because of this. As you progress through the game, you receive new psychonaut powers, such as levitation, telekinesis, and clairvoyance. Some levels require the use of these powers to progress, which gives it a Zelda feel. If you do not own this game already, I highly recommend buying it. It’s on Steam for $10 and it holds up to the test of time. It’s also a good 15 to 20 hour game, with lots of collectables. I recommend playing with a controller, and customizing the layout a bit to fit your liking. Apparently they added support for the 360 controller, but I played with a PS2 controller clone. Go buy it now, so that they will make a sequel!

The third game, Costume Quest, has been out for a year. It’s a Halloween themed game. I was turned off by it because it was a turned based fighting game, but that shouldn’t have mattered. I love Paper Mario for the N64, and I loved this game. It was less than $10 on XBLA and I was bored, so I bought it. The dialogue was funny, but I wished there was a voice over. Not at all; it was all text. It was still funny though it would have been better with voice actors. I like collecting stuff in games, so it was fun going around collecting everything in the overworld. The combat was also fun. Reminded me of Paper Mario, where you push a button to do more damage, or push a different button to receive less damage when you are attacked. You collect materials and blueprints for costumes throughout the game, and once you make a costume, you gain new abilities in combat. The costumes also have abilities in the overworld, and you can switch among the costumes very quickly. Some costumes can get you to areas that you couldn’t get in before. I enjoy that sense of exploration and progression, which is why I love Zelda so much. I enjoy it in this game as well. It’s very short. My Raptr account says I spent 5 hours on it, but I think it was a little shorter. I got all of the achievements for it as well. There is DLC, but it is about $5 I think (I hate translating XBL points into real monies) and it seems like it only adds one new area so I don’t know if I’ll get it. It was a fun Halloween game and recommend it if you have some downtime.

There’s a few more games by Double Fine that I want to highlight. Brutal Legend is dirt cheap right now. I didn’t like the gameplay as much and I didn’t finish it. The story was hilarious and engaging, as I expected, but I couldn’t get passed the gameplay. Maybe because it sold itself as a third person action game, and it ended up being a hero based, simplified RTS, in an open world, with third person hack-and-slash elements. That RTS part really through me off and I stopped playing it. I should play it again and just keep that in mind and maybe I’ll like it. The world is awesome (heavy metal themed world? Hell yes!). If it sounds like a game for you, check it out. It’s dirt cheap. It’s on PS3 and 360. Stacking is another downloadable title from them. It’s a charming puzzle game. You play as a Russian stacking doll. It’s fun, but not really too difficult. Double Fine just released a Kinect game called Once Upon A Monster, based on the Sesame Street IP, and I’m hearing good things about it… if you have children to play it with. Kind of makes me wish I had children… except not really. So there you go. Several reasons why you should play Double Fine games.

Games of 2011: Games Released in the First Half

Games of 2011This is part two of three of the Games of 2011 series I am doing. In Games Released in the First Half I will talk about games that I followed that have been released in the first half of 2011. Most of the games I passed over for one reason or another. Some of the games I already talked about in What I Played.

I loved Little Big Planet, and so I kept my eye on Little Big Planet 2. Little Big Planet 2 improves on everything from the original. Why didn’t I buy it? Well, I was working on my back catalog of games that I mentioned, and I figured I could get it at a discounted price when it becomes a Greatest Hits title. Simple as that.

Killzone 3 is another game by Sony that I didn’t buy. I keep following the Killzone series, but I never play them. Anyways, the third one sounds like more of the same from the second one. I don’t know if I’ll ever buy the series, but I might.

I bought Stacking, as I told you before. You can read the write up I did on it in the previous post. It’s a charming game and made by Double Fine Productions.

Crysis 2 is another game that I plan on buying when it gets discounted in price. I enjoy the series, but I can’t spend full price on every game that I want. I’m looking forward to playing in New York invaded by aliens, and donning the Nanosuit 2.0. I’ll end up buying it if it goes on sale for a good price.

I already talked about Bulletstorm in my previous post. It’s a fun game and I recommend it.

I talked about Portal 2 already. It’s fantastic, and might win game of the year in my book.

Homefront is an interesting case. I was intrigued because THQ wanted a game to compete with the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield. The story sounded cool as well. North Korea invades America. Sounded like a good story. According to reviews, the story wasn’t that great. However, the reviews said the multiplayer was very good. I’m not a big multiplayer fan, so I passed on this one. I might buy it if I can get it for $20.

I already chatted about Okamiden. If you loved Okami, you’ll like this one, and if you haven’t played Okami, play Okami!

Volition keeps changing their  Red Faction series, and Red Faction: Armageddon is no exception. The first and second games were first person shooters. The third game was an open world third person shooter. Armageddon sounds like a linear third person shooter (although it might be open world, just more linear; I’m not sure). I played the demo, and it was fun… just not full price fun. I payed $5 dollars for Guerrilla, and it was fun for that price of admission. It adds a few things, like being able to repair stuff, which is kinda cool. The problem with the two newer Red Faction games seems to be that combat sucks. Destroying stuff is fun. They have a multiplayer mode dedicated to the destroying stuff part, which is awesome. From what I read in reviews, Armageddon’s story isn’t that great. So, I think I’m going to wait until it is very cheap.

Oh Brink, where do I start. How about all the negative reviews. Almost everyone is saying this game fails hard. I was gunning for it to succeed. Then I heard that emphasis was going to be on multiplayer, and then it fell off my radar, because I like my single player experiences. I’ve heard that the PC version is a lot better than the console version, because of the patches they were able to release quickly on PC, which is good. However, too little too late.

Bethesda, stop publishing unfinished games. With Skyrim and RAGE looking awesome, it makes me wonder why Brink and Hunted: The Demon’s Forge are given bad reviews. Hunted was a game that I was excited for, but after Brink, was skeptical if it was going to be good. Turns out, not good. I was excited for a Gears of War crossed with a fantasy, dungeon crawler, with coop. According to reviews, it succeeds in none of these areas.

I actually bought L.A. Noire. I had a $10 gift card for Best Buy, and the game came with another, so I bought it. Then I started playing Red Dead Redemption because that had been in my back catalog for a long time. I’m looking forward to being a 1940’s detective. The facial animations look fantastic. I plan on buying Infamous 2 and playing that before this.

Speaking of Infamous 2. I’m excited to play this game. I am playing the first one on hard right now, to get a trophy and refresher course on the series. I got really excited after Yahtzee, from Zero Punctuation, reviewed the game and actually praised it. I became even more excited, and gained a lot more respect for Sucker Punch Productions (not the movie, the developer of the game) when I read his editorial. I’m really excited to follow this story that Sucker Punch has crafted.

Almost 15 years of development, and Duke Nukem Forever game turns out to be terrible. There’s many reviews and write ups on why this game is bad, so I won’t echo any of those feelings. I never played the original Duke Nukem, or Duke Nukem 3D so I was just following this game out of curiosity. I thought Gearbox was going to make it a great game, but turns out they just marketed the game and ported it to the consoles… the story and level design was already set in stone when it was handed to them. In short, I don’t blame Gearbox.

Unlike Duke Nukem, I did play the original Alice. Not all of it, but most of it. Alice: Madness Returns is the sequel to this, where Alice needs to return to Wonderland. The original had cool level design and a cool story. Madness Returns didn’t do well in the reviews, so I think I’ll pass over this one.

That’s all of them that I can remember. Trenched was released, but I’ll put up a separate post with a review of the game (spoiler: buy the game)! The next part of the series will deal with games that I am excited for in the second half of 2011. There’s a lot of them. I’ll put up a Google Calendar on my profile page that has all the release dates that I am excited for embedded within it. The forum is in working order now. I needed to clean up a lot of spam, and it seems I have stemmed the tide, but I think all the users that are on it are all spam… if the accounts aren’t activated (they are activated through a link in email) within a month, I’ll delete them. Happy summer!

Games of 2011: What I’ve Played

Games of 2011 will be a three part series. We’ll start out with this one, which will be just games that I played throughout the first half of 2011. The next part will cover games that came out in the first half of 2011 that interest me. The last part will cover games that will come out the second half of 2011 that interest me. These are sort of in the order that I played them, but they are structured more of a logical order because I forgot when I played them, and some of them I was playing while playing another game. I suggest you check these titles out.

For ten bucks, just go out and buy Pacman Championship Edition DX. It’s Pacman with pretty visuals, and new gameplay elements, like chain eating ghosts to rack up a lot of points. There’s something about chaining that is so satisfying. I think there’s a demo, so if you are not sure, download the demo and you’ll see that it is more than worth $10.

I bought a Id and Bethesda collection from Steam a while back (last QuakeCon I think) and so I’ve had The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in my collection for a long time. I hadn’t played any of the Elder Scroll games before, but I had played Fallout 3. I had beaten it once, and I didn’t want to play it again after that. I tried, but just couldn’t. My friends kept pestering me to play Oblivion, and so I did over winter break. Steam says I’ve put 66 hours into the game. I’ve started a few characters, and beat the main story with one of them. The game is old, and using a crappy engine, but the game is beautiful. One of the coolest moments was I was climbing a mountain at twilight, and I looked outward and saw a beautiful colored sky, river and forests and it was awesome in every sense of the word. Not to mention I like the gameplay and story of the game. I am now excited for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

I picked up Vanquish for cheap. I really like it. It’s a fast paced, cover based, third person shooter. The abilities such as power sliding, dodging, and slowing down time  mix up the gameplay so you are not always in cover. You can tell this game is created by a Japanese company, but it is refreshing to see their take on the cover based, third person shooter. The bosses are very hard. Some of the challenge is just frustration (like bosses have a one hit kill move). The last few bosses are tough. I played the game on Normal, by the way. I was tempted several times to turn it down to easy, but I let my pride tell me not to. Now I’m stuck on the final boss and it seems impossible. But all around, it is a great game and I am recommending it.

A buddy and me went through Gears of War and Gears of War 2 together. I hadn’t done it before, and he hadn’t finished the second game, and wanted a refresher before Gears of War 3. I’ve learned that Gears of War is more than horde mode (we’ve played a lot of Horde mode in the second game). The story is good, and I’m looking forward to the third game. Not much else to say.

I bought Bulletstorm, because it looked awesome. I was not disappointed. Finding creative ways to kill enemies is tons of fun. The leash was a genius addition to for creating new ways to kill enemies. The single player story isn’t that interesting, but who cares when you can leash someone towards you, and then click them into a cactus. The online mode, Anarchy, is a coop mode. It is basically Horde mode from Gears of War 2, but to progress to the next wave, you need to score a certain amount of points; you only have a certain number of enemies to do this. This mode is easier with two people, than it is with four. As long as you get the team kill points, you should be able to pass the wave, although that isn’t always the case. It’s fun, but the mode does get old quickly.

Time Schafer helped create the Monkey Island series, and I’ve been following ever since I played the game. He created Psychonauts for the XBox, PS2, and PC, and it is on Steam. I bought it on Steam. I recommend playing it with a controller (I think I played it with the XBox 360 controller… I also have a Nyko mappable controller). I bought this a long time ago (this seems to be a recurring theme) and played a bit of it, but I got side tracked. So I started all over and it is fantastic. The story is great and funny. You play as Raz who sneaks into a psychonauts training camp, because he wants to be a psychonaut. Psychonauts are able to go into people’s minds. Double Fine created some interesting worlds. The abilities that you can unlock are fun to use. The worlds are fun to explore. The boss battles are interesting. A great game all around, and I’m hoping Tim Schafer will make a sequel.

I didn’t really like Brutal Legend, also created by Tim Schafer. I skipped over Costume Quest, because I don’t like turn based combat games. So I bought Stacking because I wanted to support Tim Schafer and Double Fine. If I had to sum up the game in one word, it would be “charming.” The story and characters are charming. The gameplay is charming. The world is charming. Everything about it is charming. You play as a Russian stacking doll, the smallest of all the stacking dolls. As the smallest doll, you can stack into the next size up, and stack that doll into the next size up, and so on. Each doll has a special ability to help you solve puzzles. The problem with the game is it does not feel challenging. The biggest challenge was finding out more ways to solve a particular puzzle. Again, the game was charming, and worth $10, but don’t expect something that challenges you.

I’ve had Crysis for awhile, and had gotten pretty deep into the game, but that was a long time ago. I recently started over and the game still looks amazing! I like the openness of the world; you can complete an objective however you want. The nanosuit powers are very fun. I like the game, and plan on getting Crysis 2, when I chip away at my current game library.

I haven’t beaten Okamiden, but I’ve been playing it on and off and I am having fun. I loved Okami for the Wii. The game was also very fun on the PS2. I recommend that you buy Okami. Okamiden takes place a few months after Okami. They explain how that is possible. It has been fun revisiting the world of Okami. Its interesting to see some of the changes that have happened over the months. The touch screen is perfect for drawing with the brush. If you liked Okami, you’ll like this game. If you haven’t played Okami, I suggest you buy Okami for either the PS2 or Wii, because it is a great game. Okamiden is more of the same, with DS graphics, but it isn’t a bad thing because Okami did so many things right.

I bought Just Cause 2 before Spring Break. I played it all through Spring Break, and beyond. I’ve poured over 100 hours into this game and I’m at 99.4% complete, which is the highest percentage you can complete it because of a glitch. The over-the-top action is fantastic. The combination of parachute and grappling hook makes moving around the large, open world, fun. There are thousands of collectibles, and I had fun getting every last one. The story was “meh” but the action sequences made up for it. I highly recommend this title, especially since it is 30 bucks.

Portal 2 is fantastic. I don’t think I need to say more… but I will. I bought it on the PS3, and got my PSN and Steam accounts synced before the the downtime, so I got the game downloaded from Steam for free. I beat the game on the PS3, and on the PC. I played and beat the coop compaign on the PS3 via split screen coop. Fun times. the game greatly improves on the base that the first game created. GlaDOS is back, as well as some new characters.

One of the most recent game that I have beaten is Red Dead Redemption. I was a little skittish of this game, because I did not like Grand Theft Auto 4. However, I got the game for cheap, and it has won several Game of the Year awards, so I bought it. I loved it. I liked the story and the setting. John Marston was a great character. I found myself doing the honorable thing when it came to decisions. I enjoyed doing the side stuff; I put it several hours of poker. I have the game at a little over 90% and I’ve finished the story missions, but I don’t know if I will do anything else. We will see. I highly recommend this game.

Another game that I recently beat was Torchlight. I bought Torchlight when it was first released. It is a game created by Runic games, which is made of people from the now dead Flagship studios. The are made up of people that created the Diablo series as well as the Fate series. The game takes the best elements of both series, and created Torchlight. It is fantastic. For $20, you can’t go wrong if you liked Diablo or Fate. Killing massive amounts of enemies, and collecting loot while exploring dungeons is fun in this game. The story sucks, but the gameplay makes up for it. They are releasing Torchlight 2, which expands upon everything. It is basically going to be like going from Diablo to Diablo 2. So keep you eyes on it.

I beat Crysis Warhead last night. Only took about five hours, so it was a short game. I liked the pacing of this game, over the original game. I liked the story in the first game better. This game focused on Psycho, including his past. There would be brief recordings from missions in the past. The story wasn’t that interesting. Nanosuit is the same, the weapons are the same, and the enemies are the same as the original. I had fun with it, but it is a game you can skip over if you played the first one. I’ll end up buying Crysis 2 as soon as it comes down in price, unless I’m really bored.

So that’s that. I’m waiting until later in the month to pick up Infamous 2. That’s the next game I plan on buying and playing this summer. I have L.A. Noire, but I probably won’t get around to playing it until after Infamous 2. Next post should be soon, and I’ll be talking about some of the games that came out this first half of 2011 that intrigued me, but I didn’t play for various reasons.

PSN Breach – An IT Perspective

PSN Breach - An IT Perspective

The Playstation Network security breach was bad… really bad. Usernames, passwords, emails, and address were taken, and Credit Card numbers may have been taken (I’ve seen people post comments that they have noticed illegitimate charges to their credit cards so this is true, at least for some people). The Playstation Network has been down for three weeks, with services starting to be restored. Sony is offering lots of things to their customers, including: Free credit monitoring, free games, free trials to paid programs, and a few more things. I could give you all the information regarding this, but there’s enough news articles around with that information. I’m going to give you my opinion on all this mess.

I’ve heard lots of opinions. People are going to swear off Sony products; some people will continue trusting Sony. Some people blame Sony, while others want blood against the hackers. I want the people who stole the PSN information brought to justice. I’m currently going to school so I can work in the Information Technology field. Along the way, I’ve taken many business classes. This means that I know how technology works, and how corporations works, so lets examine everything from these two points of view. First some background.

A hacker going by the name of GeoHot found a way to hack the PS3. His hack allowed people to do whatever they wanted with the system, such as harmless things like homebrew games, and illegal things like play pirated games, and using cheats online. I could go on, but that’s for another article. Anyways, he was sued by Sony. A group of hackers calling themselves Anonymous didn’t like this, and attacked Sony with a denial-of-service attack, which basically overloads Sony’s servers with so many requests that the servers just shut down. Sony’s servers were down for a few days, but PSN was back up fairly quickly. Then GeoHot and Sony settled their lawsuit, and then Sony went down again… this time without Anonymous taking any credit. This was the PSN breach downtime. It took 6 days for Sony to finally give a statement saying that the PSN was hacked and personal information was stolen. With that information, let’s examine this.

This could have happened to any company. Hackers attack Amazon and Microsoft every day, but they usually do not obtain personal information. There’s security in place to prevent that. Encrypting the files on the servers is one way. Encryption converts readable information to cypher text (unreadable information). It uses a complex algorithm to do this. The information is only readable to those possessing the cipher key, which is also generated by an algorithm. There are several different kinds of algorithms, and most of these servers are using the latest algorithms. Encryption is also used in transaction processes, such as when you buy something from Amazon. You’ll notice that the page changes from a “http://xxxxx” to a “https://xxxxx”. This means encryption is being used. So if someone catches that information between you and the server, the information will be unreadable to the hacker. I could go more in depth with encryption, but that would take forever.

Security protocols on network devices, firewalls, and more security settings on servers are also used to make sure your personal information is not taken. Bigger corporation and brands are using the latest security and encryption, so I trust these companies. However, if a server is connected to the Internet (and they are) they are vulnerable to attack. Like I said, a breach could happen to anyone. Sony had most of these measures in place. They were actually in the process of moving their servers to a more secure location. This breach sped up that process. It takes time to upgrade, and companies are always upgrading, because technology is always changing. So this scenario of being in the process of upgrading is not isolated to just Sony. As soon as a new security upgrade gets into place, it is obsolete because hackers are always finding new ways to get access to restricted systems, and security professionals are always upgrading security protocols and hardware to combat the hackers. Much like a consumer buying a brand new, top-of-the-line PC, and the PC being obsolete soon after.

We’ve established that this could have happened to anyone, but did they handle it correctly? I mean, six days for them to tell the public? That’s a long time for people to have credit card information. Well, business classes told me there are lots of stakeholders in a company. You have employees, stock holders, customers, distributors, etc. From a security prospective, they did everything right. They shut down the network, brought in an external, highly regarded security company, examined the network, and found out what was stolen. Now they are fixing the security holes and upgrading the security. That’s why it took three weeks, which is a very short time actually. It took them six days to inform the public. During this time, they needed to tell Japan (corporate red tape demands it) and Japan took over and started to call the shots (more red tape). Once all that got figured out, they needed to see if anything was compromised. With so many stakeholders, they needed to know for sure. If they came out early and told everyone that they were compromised and personal information may have been stolen, they would lose stockholders. As a corporation, you do not want to lose stockholders. Especially if no information was taken, which, unfortunately, was not the case. So I could see why it took six days.

Unfortunately, as a customers, we do not care about them losing stockholders and we would like to know if our information was potentially stolen, and we want to be kept up to date on what they are doing. Personally, I can forgive Sony for waiting six days, but I also understand why customers will not forgive Sony. In the end, I feel Sony is not at fault. Any corporation is fallible to security breaches. Unless you don’t have the Internet, your information is not secure anywhere. Saying that this will not happen to Microsoft is being ignorant. Microsoft has a huge target on their head by hackers, which probably makes them more secure, but not invincible. I feel Sony has learned from this and will provide a more secure environment in the future. I will continue using Sony products. I’ll probably be using PSN cards from Gamestop from now on, but I’ll stand by Sony.