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November 16th, 2014

Slow progress report

What am I doing right now?

During these past few weeks the progress on TAGAP 3 has been very, very slow. Steady, mind you, but slow. This comes down to two things. The lesser of them you've already seen – TAGAP v2.0 – but the other one is more personal; A serious illness in the close family. While this was something very serious, we're pretty much in the clear now. However, this means I've been spending great deal of time travelling to the hospital in another town several days a week, not leaving me much free time to work with. That, and the whole ordeal has been quite exhausting overall.

That said, there is still progress being made on TAGAP 3 front. Remember the special level I mentioned in the previous post? As I explained then, almost every single asset in this level has to be custom made; Almost none of these textures, enemies or collateral objects will be seen anywhere else in the game. Now most of the assets are done and the basic framework for the level is in place, I now need to use the assets to bring the map to life.

The most interesting part of the development of this map has been the unique enemies. It's really hard to talk about these without spoiling anything, but I can say this; Years ago I designed one particular element for the TAGAP 3 universe and I didn't think much more of it. Now that very same element plays an integral part in this level and I've had to revisit the original concept and analyse it almost down to particle level. This may sound crazy – and it kind-of is – but I actually managed to pull it off, turning this thing that used to be nothing more than a visually more interesting way of doing things to one of the most thoroughly conceptualized elements in the entire game. I promise, once the game is out I'll explain this one in detail.

Sound creation for this level has been a blast as well. One particular sound effects pack I purchased is really paying itself off with this setting. I won't name which one, as you'd likely put two-and-two together, but I can say it's one of the great effect sets from The Recordist. By the way, if I haven't hyped The Recordist sound effects on this blog yet, consider them hyped. Frank Bry's effect packs have been my number one resource with TAGAP 3 and though not a single sound has ended up in the game as-is, you couldn't hope for better source material to tinker with.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

After spending 40+ hours on three games in a row, these modern action games I've currently been going through seem to zip past really fast, even when played in mere two hour bursts. First up was The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – or as I like to call it, "XCOM Frankensteined". The game really feels that way – and it would do so even if I wasn't aware of the behind-the-scenes history of the troubled production. To put it simply, The Bureau started out as XCOM, a Bioshock-styled re-imagining of the franchise set in 1950s America. However, following the fan rage and the run-away surprise success of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the two XCOMs were melted together in a Mass Effect pot and as the result we have The Bureau.

My feelings towards The Bureau are a bit mixed. There were many parts I absolutely loved and most of these elements are from the FPS XCOM remake concept; The more abstract aliens, the 50s setting that's at times absolutely picturesque and some of the main cast. However, this just leads me to wonder how much better the game would've been if the 'other XCOM' hadn't been forcefully injected into it? Don't get me wrong, I liked the strategy XCOMs old and new, but these two universes don't seem to mix.

I'd still say it's very much worth a shot, especially as a bargain bin title. When it hits its groove, the combat works really well. While most of the story doesn't seem to make a lot of sense or connect with what you do on the field, there is a pretty clever plot twist that redeemed the overall experience, at least for me. Stuff like that twist really feels like this was developed by the folks behind Bioshock 2 and Minerva's Den – it's just too bad they weren't allowed to complete the game as they originally envisioned it.

Resident Evil Revelations

Next was Resident Evil Revelations. While the rest of the world has jumped on the next gen bandwagon and played new horror games this October (by those I mean The Evil Within and Alien: Isolation), I headed to discover this deliberately throwback Resident Evil spin-off. And by throwback I mean that it's the closest the series has been to its roots since Code Veronica of Dreamcast and PS2 era. It's pretty much the combat mechanics of Resident Evil 6 – minus QTEs – in a Metroidvania-esque adventure setting similar to the very first Resident Evil. And it is glorious!

Some of you might hesitate because of the game's 3DS handheld roots, but that's not really an issue. While I admit the game isn't much to look at, everything else it nails down perfectly. Apart from the graphics, the only thing that gives away the handheld origins is the episodic story structure; The game is split into TV-styled episodes, complete with 'previously on RE' recaps. I actually liked this approach, as it results in a lot better story structure than with the most games in the genre. As a nice touch, the back stories of the characters old and new are told in between the episodes as sort of flashback missions, which is a nice way to expand the scope of the story without breaking the interesting setting the main game takes place in.

I'd strongly recommend Resident Evil Revelations as I loved it to bits. The only thing I didn't like, at all, was the very last boss fight that is annoying, colossally nonsensical, stupid and ill-fitting even on modern Resident Evil standards. What pisses me the most about it is the fact that until that boss, all the designs and concepts had been very consistent and felt like part of the same universe – which is something you can't say of, say, RE5 or RE6. Heck, the boss before the last one is so gross-out brilliant and thematic I really wish the game had ended there. Oh well, everything prior to the last boss is pure gold, though, and well worth a visit.

Next in backlog

Right now I'm wading through the Crysis trilogy. I had played the first two previously, but when I started up Crysis 3, my initial reaction to the opening cinematic was 'wait, I don't remember any of this happening, what the heck is he talking about?' To ensure I hadn't forgotten anything this crucial, I decided to rewind and start again from Crysis, followed by Crysis 2. I still like the two, though I prefer the sequel; You still have all the freedom, but it's more focused without the extra fluff – plus Alcatraz/Prophet/Nanosuit has one darn interesting story arc well worth repeating.

I just yesterday started Crysis 3 again – and you know what? No wonder I didn't remember anything The Prophet talked about – it all happens between the games! You see, there's a gap of several decades between Crysis 2 and 3, which effectively brushes aside the cliffhanger set by part 2. While this felt really off-putting at first, it pays off in the end. In fact, the writing in Crysis 3 might be its highlight, especially the returning character Psycho. While he originally was a crazy daredevil super-soldier, he is now stripped from his nanosuit and powers, forcing him to face his mortality as a regular man once more. This turns him from a comic relief of the first game to a character with the most thoughtfully written character arc I recall witnessing in a shooter in ages. Bravo for that, Crytek.

When I'm done with Crysis, there's a brand new game that demands to be played; Lego Batman 3. Yes, I know I intended Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 to be the last game I bought Day One until I got to 'next gen', but seriously, who could resist Lego Adam West, complete with Lego 60's Batmobile?

That's it for this time. Hopefully as things in my 'real life' revert back to normal, I can return to the speedier TAGAP 3 schedule soon, with plenty more progress updates! But even if we're stuck in slow mode, remember; Slow progress is still progress and better than no progress!

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin