Archive for May, 2014

Vice City: New Stuff

When I started playing GTA3 seven years ago, I spent a good long time just wandering around, admiring the scenery, driving recklessly, and looking for hidden packages. Enjoying the feel of the thing instead of pursuing goals. Admittedly, this was largely because it took me so long to resolve certain hardware issues. But even taking that into account, I feel like I’ve been pursuing missions a little more single-mindedly in Vice City. It’s still an open world, but I pretty much know how it works by now. I don’t need to go through the initial-experiments phase again.

There are new elements, though. And the designers have been considerate enough to introduce them one by one over the course of the missions. Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  • Outfits. Several missions require you to be dressed appropriately to fit in, starting with a soiree that you can’t attend until you’ve changed into a Don-Johnson-style T-shirt-and-suit-jacket combo. You can optionally continue to wear these get-ups when they’re no longer necessary. Outfits here are monolithic things, though, with none of the detailed mixing and customization you find in later games in the genre. This was basically just Rockstar experimenting with the idea of outfits to see if it’s something players would want — trying it on, so to speak.
  • Melee weapons. GTA3 gave you only one: the baseball bat. Vice City has a fairly wide assortment, including several sorts of knives, golf clubs, and nightsticks scavenged from fallen police officers, all with different attributes. One assassination mission requires you to use a chainsaw, which is so unwieldy that you can’t run very fast with it. You can still run just a little faster than your target, but the mission goes a lot faster if you think of putting the chainsaw away while running.
  • Motorcycles. They’re smaller than cars, and thus can weave through traffic better, but they afford far less protection. If you run into a brick wall at full speed in a car, it damages the car, but you’re safe. If you do it on a motorcycle, it’s pretty much an instant death. Although there weren’t any motorcycles in GTA3, they aren’t really new to the series. There were motorcycles in the original top-down Grand Theft Auto, which had bonus items that could only be reached through ramp-jumps in places inaccessible by car. The mechanics of the thing are pretty much the same here as there.
  • RC helicopters. GTA3 had this gag involving radio-controlled toy cars with bombs in them. The helicopters here are similar, except flying and much harder to control, which is probably realistic.
  • Purchasing property? I haven’t actually been able to do this yet, and don’t know how much of a mechanic it is. There’s one building I know that has a tag outside that, when activated, informs you that you can’t buy it yet. And I could have sworn I saw another building that instead gave me a price, which I couldn’t afford at the time, but now that I can afford it, I can’t find it again. I know that buying buildings is a big thing in the Saints Row series, a competitor of GTA, so maybe that started here.

GTA: Vice City

So, I’m starting to try to pick up this blog again. We’ll see if it lasts. To give it a foundation, I’ve started by re-reading the posts from the beginning, intending to complete any games that I started and play sequels to any games that have them. The first relevant game is GTA3, and so I’ve started playing its immediate sequel, Vice City.

I thought for sure I had this on disc — I certainly have the next sequel, San Andreas, still shrinkwrapped on my shelf — but apparently I don’t. I still feel like I had it at one point and possibly lost it. It hardly matters. All these games have been on Steam for ages, and frequently get put on sale for measly sums, so I’ve had it there for a while, just as unplayed as San Andreas. It didn’t work properly with my gamepad at first, but things have gotten a lot easier since my fumblings with its predecessor seven years ago: a mod that replicates the Xbox input scheme on PC was just a web-search away.

What I know going in: This is the one where the controversy really seemed to pick up steam. So far it strikes me as more puerile than offensive, though. Also, this is the first of the GTA games to give the player a specific character, with a name and spoken dialogue. This doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference so far: even when he talks, Tommy Vercetti’s personality is no more than the implied personality of the previous games’ mute protagonists. He’s a thug for hire and that’s about it.

Vice City was one of the three cities from the original Grand Theft Auto, and clearly based on Miami as portrayed in Miami Vice: sleek cars, bright sunshine, 80s fashions. Cyan and magenta all over the place. Michael Jackson and Yes on the radio. This is a period piece, much like the London 1969 expansion to the original GTA. It even emphasizes its retroness by starting the intro cutscene with a fake Commodore 64 loading screen. By now, it’s doubly retro, a glimpse of how the 80s looked twelve years ago.

To my eye, it doesn’t look too retro. The character models have hands that are mittens, without distinct fingers, but other than that, once you’ve cranked up the resolution it looks pretty much okay. Except that the women all walk funny, swaying their hips in a way that I guess is supposed to be sexy but just looks rather difficult and uncomfortable.

Xyzzy Awards Best Puzzles Writeups

I wrote up some thoughts about the 2013 “Best Puzzles” Xyzzy Awards nominees at the Xyzzy Awards blog.

Actually, I did this last year as well, although I didn’t mention it here at the time.

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