Gaming Diary: Mark of the Ninja (4/2)
I played some Mark of the Ninja tonight, and hit the plot twist. My favorite part of tonight’s session was when I, as a ninja, lured three guards—individually, mind you—to investigate a spot while I hung upside down above them and leaped on top of each one with my sword, [down arrow] + X-ing them to their silent doom.
I was also turned into ash by the same laser 4 times, but we won’t talk about that.
I love technology.
Lara Croft Has a Great Hair Day Thanks to TressFX
Last Friday we revealed our PC specs, touching lightly on our ongoing relationship with AMD. Today we dive much deeper into Tomb Raider’s PC optimization with the reveal of TressFX, the first real-time hair rendering and physics system in a playable PC game.
It’s no secret that realistic hair has been one of the most challenging materials to reproduce in real-time, as each of tens of thousands of strands casts it own complex shadow and requires anti-aliasing. That doesn’t even take into account the constant updates to try and synchronize said hair with the movement of a character.
AMD and Crystal Dynamics are extraordinarily excited to address this in Tomb Raider, especially noting how important Lara’s iconic locks are to fans.
“AMD Graphics and Crystal Dynamics have partnered to revitalize one of video gaming’s most iconic characters, Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider franchise,” said Matt Skynner, corporate vice president and general manager, AMD Graphics. “Developers at AMD and Crystal Dynamics collaborated tirelessly to leverage the power of AMD Radeon to develop the world’s first real-time hair physics system in a PC game. TressFX Hair combines advanced lighting, per-strand physics, and collision detection to bring unprecedented realism to this final frontier of image quality in PC gaming.”
Using DirectCompute to unlock the massively-parallel processing capabilities of the Graphics Core Next architecture, TressFX hair allows for a quality previously only achievable in pre-rendered images.
DirectCompute is also used to perform the real-time physics simulation for TressFX Hair, treating each strand as a chain with dozens of links, which allows for forces such as gravity, wind, and Lara’s movement to influence Lara’s hair in a realistic fashion. Collision detection is performed to ensure that the strands don’t pass through each other, or solid surfaces. Lastly, Lara’s hairstyle is simulated by gradually pulling the strands back to their original shape after they have moved in response to an external force.
So how can you get in on Lara’s new and improved hair? Graphics cards that take advantage of the Graphics Core Next architecture, such as the AMD Radeon HD 7000 Series, are optimal for the task at hand thanks to the fast on-chip shared memory and processing throughput.
Phew! That was a lot of information! Showing is always better than telling, so take a peek at Lara’s new and improved ‘do above!
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance Review
By Robert M. Errera
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance for the 3DS is an epic amalgam of every Kingdom Hearts game in existence, with nearly every character referenced, every plot line relevant, and every moment of the series significant. Heartless, nobodies, key holes, the Mark of Mastery exam, Disney worlds, black coats, time travel, and more—the game is only missing the unversed and Final Fantasy characters in order to have thrown in every element of the series (though the salesmoogle is included, as well as characters from Square-Enix’s The World Ends With You). Prepare for a compelling tale of snowballed convolution that only someone who’s paid attention through each of the other six games in the series will fully comprehend (though written reports in-game will summarize the previous installments well enough to get by). The intricate plot of Dream Drop Distance will take some effort to wrap your head around, and if you’re just now gaining an interest in the Kingdom Hearts series, this game is not for you.
But complex story aside, it’s a great game, and a great addition to the mythology.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: A Game That Will Rock Your Chocobo’s Socks
Though the era of Rock Band, Guitar Hero and the like may have petered out, Square Enix has not tired of milking the Final Fantasy franchise with spin-offs. Theatrythm Final Fantasy is a great, nostalgic addition to the hardcore Final Fantasy fan’s collection, and anyone familiar with games like Rhythm Fever and Elite Beat Agents will get the hang of the similarly-styled gameplay quickly.
On the surface, the game looks kiddie, but in an Edward Gorey way: The characters look like a coloring-book interpretation of Limbo’s characters, stripping them of all their original visual appeal and their individuality. This chibi (albeit creepy) graphics ensure that you are always aware this is a spin-off game. But there’s a simple brilliance to Theatrhythm. The player is given the opportunity to choose a party of four from the main characters of Final Fantasy I through XIII (including unlockable characters), and the party is taken through each game’s soundtrack. (Final Fantasy X-2, XIII-2, and XIV are not included in the game.)
Mini Boss Diary: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Today, I fended off a handful of deranged, chibi-looking heroes who tried to steal the crystals we’ve worked so hard to acquire. But—get this—the jerks actually thought they could fell me with music. Ha! Well I made short work of them, just like when I fought that spoony bard with the harp! Boss, have you heard the term, “fight fire with fire”? Well I did exactly that. I threw tunes at them with such speed that they became disoriented and were unable to form a proper attack—beautiful songs too. (My mother always told me I could have been a performer, but alas, I chose a different route.) I finished them off with a complex rendition of “One-Winged Angel.” You should have seen them try to match each note in an effort to deflect my brilliant arrangements. In the end—even having used a potion—I drained the life from them. The weird-looking fools!
The Mini Boss
Review: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
(Disclaimer: I played the PS3 version.)
When Darth Vader slaughters your parents and promises you a badass life, you don’t argue. And Starkiller didn’t, as a boy; instead he embraced the dark side and became a terrible force to be reckoned with (which, of course, no one reckoned with if they could help it). But Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is not a choose-your-own-side game, and Starkiller’s alliances are predetermined by the plot. It is a tale of morality, betrayal, and ultimately revenge and redemption—with a ton of force-unleashing along the way.
Battlestar Galactica fans may recognize the main character of The Force Unleashed as Crashdown (who also played the zombie in the tank in The Walking Dead TV show), and he provides a majority of the game’s great voice acting. Unfortunately, the script itself is incredibly mediocre, and there were points where I smirked and shook my head at the terribly flat and predictable dialogue. The redeeming qualities are the battle mechanics and music (beautiful Star Wars orchestra pieces), which taken together create a cinematic feeling that allows the game to rise to the level of the Star Wars universe. You’ll combo-slash wave after wave of the Empire’s minions and soldiers, leveling up your character to the point in which nothing can withstand the variety of force powers at Starkiller’s disposal—all to the sharp notes of recognizable Star Wars instrumentals. And while a powerful, charged force push can be satisfying—enemies bounce off of walls and decrease their health with each inevitable concussion—sometimes the situation calls for high-powered force lightning. Or for lifting foes with the force and smashing them against the ground (or each other). Or for lifting all manner of objects in the environment and using them as large projectiles. A quick warning, though: There are a fair number of God-of-War-style quick time events, though they are often slow enough that you probably won’t miss very often. But this is made up for by your quick-paced battles against other users of the force, including Darth Vader, and the particularly awesome feeling of taking down a space ship with your mind (yeah, that happens).
The game is mostly about the action, but the storytelling is directed much like a Star Wars movie, notably the screen wipe scene change. The plot covers politics, force politics, a love interest, and the expected evil-to-not-so-bad character arc typical of a tale of good and evil. In the end, the 10-hour adventure is a great way to blow off steam after a long day.