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Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




Latest Video



What is Black?

Back in the early 2000's Criterion Games was quickly establishing itself off the strength of the Burnout franchise after working on a few one off games for various publishers for the first few years of the studios' life. By the time Burnout 3 came around Criterion had been purchased by Electronic Arts and were given the greenlight to put out something that wasn't another Burnout sequel...as long as it didn't stop the creation of more Burnout. That project was Black. At the time of release it was a departure from much of the market, 2006 saw a large number of Sci-Fi and WWII shooters while Black was set in the present without much in the way of gameplay flairs; no slow-mo button, no physics puzzles or other bells and whistles. You can't even jump. Instead, Black's strengths were in presentation. Light sources stream in rays through windows, when you reload your gun the distant objects go blurry like you are focusing your eyes on the weapon. Shooting walls and barriers tear way segments of material and send dust up into the air obscuring your view. It was meant to look and sound like a major Hollywood action movie. For the most part it works. When things are exploding and you're gunning down Eastern European guys with no understanding of why you are or who they even work for it can feel like it's a weird Rambo sequel.

There are two things that make Black really interesting, though. Despite coming out in 2006 it was an Original Xbox and PS2 game. The Xbox 360 launched in late 2005, so this is something like the last really big new IP to show up in the previous generation, and it took until 2008 to port it over. It may have been to keep from showing favoritism with Sony's PS3 launching in November of 2006, or it may have been that Criterion didn't get development kits for the next get consoles in a reasonable time, it's just very odd. The other thing that makes me wonder what went on is that the game has no online multiplayer. Not even splitscreen. At the time you would at least expect some sort of bolt-on vs. mode. Again, I wonder if the PS2's limited online functionality played a role there. Because of the launch window of the game and the lack of replayability I think a lot of people missed out on what is a really solid (even now, it's not trash) experience.

The LP

I'm playing the PS2 version of the game through an emulator (Black never made it to the PC, Criterion didn't make many PC titles back then). I found my xbox copy of the game in some boxes this Summer, which prompted the idea for this LP, but apparently the Xbox is difficult to emulate on modern architecture, which is too bad because the Xbox version is considered the better looking/playing one. The good news is that I can cut the long levels as needed without worrying about stupid deaths or getting stuck between textures sending me all the way back to the start of the level as checkpoints are really spaced out. Every video should cover half a level or so. If you can't follow the story, don't worry. The game's director has gone on record stating that it was a complete afterthought and you can tell by the live action sequences and the fact that the story never moves via gameplay, you just go place to place shooting things. It's kind of great, in a way.

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Lazyfire fucked around with this message at 00:23 on Feb 26, 2021

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Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




The first level is a good representation of what to expect from the rest of the game. Firefights, explosions, rockets coming at you, useless or non-existent allies, secret and secondary paths and collectibles. You also get to see some of the game's jank when I get stuck in a light pole. Try as I might, I can't seem to avoid that fate perfectly. I think it has to do with the seam between textures and the frame rate. If the game was built to work at one speed and I have it set to another that may make some areas a little difficult to navigate where two textures meet. Dark Souls: Prepare To Die edition had something like this if you set the .ini files to play at 60 instead of 30 frames. Because the game was specifically made for 30FPS there were a number of animations that didn't run at the same speed as in the console version and so doing something as simply rolling between two platforms wasn't possible at the higher rate. My best guess is that I'm hitting the space where the pole and the ground meet at a speed the game engine couldn't have worked to and so I'm getting wedged in. Rooms with lots of stairs and railings are fairly dangerous as well and so I'll be saving before them most of the time. Oddly, objects that aren't embedded in each other like cars on a road or boxes in a warehouse won't cause this issue, so taking cover behind a barrier won't lock you into place. It's important to know that because getting stuck in something you think is harmless will end up with me hitting the quick load button and hoping I remembered to save recently.

Polaron
Oct 13, 2010

The Oncoming Storm


Oh man. I remember seeing this game so many times at Blockbuster and never being able to convince my brother to rent it with me. I'm really curious to see it played.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests


Polaron posted:

Oh man. I remember seeing this game so many times at Blockbuster and never being able to convince my brother to rent it with me. I'm really curious to see it played.

I think you could have gotten everything out of this game with a single rental, too. I beat it in under six hours during the test run while getting most of the secrets and such. It's oddly bare bones for a full priced game.

Fedule
Mar 27, 2010


No one left uncured.
I got you.


This game is probably a standout showcase for back compat on the Xboxes Serieses S and X. I can imagine their HDR conversion having more or less exactly this kind of thing in mind.

OutofSight
May 4, 2017


Lazyfire posted:

I think you could have gotten everything out of this game with a single rental, too. I beat it in under six hours during the test run while getting most of the secrets and such. It's oddly bare bones for a full priced game.

I think during FrenzyTheKillbot's LP somebody brought up that this game looks like a tech demo. The main features (THE GUNS) seem nice with their graphics and sound design.

Did they ever use the engine for anything else?

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests


Fedule posted:

This game is probably a standout showcase for back compat on the Xboxes Serieses S and X. I can imagine their HDR conversion having more or less exactly this kind of thing in mind.

Yeah, the graphical flourishes in this game really were clever work arounds to do low-tech versions of things that are standard now. It's kind of impressive when you remember how unique it was for the time.


OutofSight posted:

I think during FrenzyTheKillbot's LP somebody brought up that this game looks like a tech demo. The main features (THE GUNS) seem nice with their graphics and sound design.

Did they ever use the engine for anything else?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_RenderWare_games

Criterion developed Renderware when they were a software house and kept modifying it for like 20 years. It's disingenuous to say that a bunch of games ended up using the engine, but all of the Burnout games through Paradise were using something similar to Black, sort of like when an EA game uses Frostbite now; the studio is modifying the game to their needs at the time. Black and the Burnout games are so different graphically, in both style and detail, that it's difficult to believe they share a foundation.

Gideon020
Apr 23, 2011


The part I liked apart from the unlockable cheat after completing a difficulty was that the various 'evidence' stuff you destroyed all listed various conspiracy theories.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




What's amazing about this game is how fast it dumps you into the action. The first mission is short and takes place in fairly flat and narrow confines. This level throws a lot of second and third story enemies at you and has a bunch of open-ish areas. You also get introduced to stealth kills (most of that was in episode 1), something the game never specifically tells you are a thing. Actually, the game never tells you there is a crouch or melee button. Stealth is a nice concept, but never necessary in the game. You can, and probably will, shoot yourself out of most situations. Most of the time you shouldn't be in melee range in this game, enemies up close will never miss, so the best case scenario is you lose a chunk of health from trying to punch them to death. They do stagger, but not enough to be worth it.

Another thing to talk about is the level of destruction you see in the game. In most levels you can knock chunks out of walls with bullets, but throwing a grenade or exploding a nearby barrel is often the better option, especially early on just because enemies will end up getting caught in the conflagration. Explosions have crazy radius throughout the game, grenades included. You can clear a large-ish room with one throw through most of the game. Bullets become more destructive at the end of the game because most of the geometry starts to basically blow itself up if you hit it. It does no damage to enemies, but it looks cool and takes cover away from your opponents.

One more thing: I love that enemies flinch if you shoot at them and narrowly miss. It's something you don't see in a lot of games even now. It is a big help when you are trying to stop a sprinting Russian/unidentified Eastern European from going cover-to-cover.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




Something I only now realized is weird about this game: no scopes on anything but the sniper rifle. it's iron sights or nothing throughout the game. That in and of itself isn't that surprising considering the "Aim Down Sight" mechanic in this game is just a zoom in on where the gun is pointed instead of what you see in most games, but I'm still surprised the developers and art team didn't want to put a red dot on something at some point just for the looks. The guns are really the star of the show, just look at how they render the shells flying out when the weapon is fired and how you can go find them on the ground after the fact. That's some Kojima poo poo in the PS2 era.

Like I mention in the video, this level is where you start to see the destruction weapons can do in any great detail. By the end your standard assault rifle will be doing much more impressive things to columns and walls than what the sniper rifle does to gravestones here, but it's a good introduction to the idea that cover isn't always reliable long term. For the most part enemies will duck behind indestructible objects, and their AI seems programmed to have them sprint across open terrain no matter the distance or what other cover is available to get behind a metal object. Sometimes that object is an unexploded car and it works out in your favor, other times it is the side of a bus and they refuse to poke their heads out for a minute straight. Most of the time you end up firing on them uselessly because enemies move at a weird clip and I find it difficult to shoot moving targets because of it.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




I love that the rocket launcher guys, even if they just fired a rocket and have nothing loaded, always blow themselves up when you kill them. It shouldn't be as entertaining as it is, and I wish the game made them load bearing enemies at times, but there's something about making a man explode by shooting him with a sniper rifle. This level is where the game shows you it isn't afraid to do more open and complex arenas. I don't show it off, but once you get out of the trenches there is a bunker you can go into and get intel and a lot of territory on the lip of the trench where enemies will hide and shoot from on all sides. The rocket guys are teaching you to look up as well, something that becomes really important later on as RPGs become more common and snipers start to appear frequently in the next few stages.

I spent some time messing with the settings of the emulator and I can't seems to resolve the issues with sound or frame rate no matter what I do. This bugs the hell out of me, but may be something I need to live with. From my understanding, this sort of thing is fairly common on some PS2 games because of the way the Emotion Engine the PS2 used was configured. I can remember developers saying they liked working on XBox games back then because it was a fairly straightforward architecture and software combination, but the PS2 was a more difficult platform just because of how the architecture of the Emotion Engine needed some extra attention to get high level performance out of it.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




This video is basically "explosions: the level" for this game. For a good chunk of it you need to set off a bunch of mines, fuel tanks and random things that are somehow flammable just to move forward. This is also where I reveal some of the limits of the game's AI. You see, enemies' weapons are just like yours in that they get less accurate with distance. At the normal difficulty the AI won't aim for your head at any time, so you can often survive multiple people shooting directly into your torso for a few seconds no matter what. That makes it a little easier up close, but the game is near trivial if you keep the average soldier at a distance. While my rifle may not be perfectly accurate outside of the "red dot" zone, that is also true of the AI. Because they fire in bursts at that distance instead of in a near semi-auto state they lose even more accuracy. It boils down to being able to stand out in the open while hurling half a dozen rounds at a guy and not having to worry about taking any real damage. The occasions where you can openly stunt on the AI in this game are rare enough that it is worth showing them off in this level. When enemies are close up they can drill through half your health in moments because they go to full auto mode and have no magazine limits. They are instead limited in how long they will fire at any given time. On normal that usually means one guy next to you can drop you to 1/3 your health bar before he'll stop shooting, but two firing on you can kill you before you can stop either of them. Cheesing enemies is extremely important at times, so it's good to know this.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




I played this game for six hours in my test playthrough and never saw anything like what happened in the back half of this video. That's an emulator bug rather than a game glitch for sure. Hopefully it doesn't happen again.

berryjon
May 30, 2011

I have an invasion to go to.

Now that is dedication to the craft of LP.

AltaBrown
Sep 8, 2011


That was really something impressive, LF. I would not have had the patience or curiosity needed to see that through.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests


AltaBrown posted:

That was really something impressive, LF. I would not have had the patience or curiosity needed to see that through.

Any earlier in the level and I would have just started over. The frustration level wasn't super worth it. The next few levels are longer and more complex, so I'll be save stating frequently to hopefully avoid trying to get through those with luck and guesswork on where enemies actually are.

I had to skip recording this week because of other commitments, hence the lack of videos since the last one. I should have more ready for next week. We're a little under halfway done in terms of levels, but all of them are 40-60 minute affairs from here on out, so there's plenty of game to go.

oldskool
Aug 9, 2010





Lipstick Apathy

That was....wow.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




OK, back in the saddle. Surprisingly few issues here, which is great because any hiccups from here on out are going to be painful. From here on out the difficulty is going to ramp up a bit and you'll be facing not only more armored enemies, but more powerful ones in general. More shotgun guys, more snipers, more rocket launchers and thankfully few shield dudes.

Shield guys are the bane of my existence in this game, they turn too fast to get around them easily, do a ton of damage if you are near them and show up in spots that are only really good for throwing grenades behind them. You just need to make sure you have enough to get through the number the game will throw at you. This is where the trial and error factor plays in, like an old school Nintendo game that is difficult simply so you have to keep playing and learning the exact behavior of each enemy. Because there are only two spawn forever points in the entire game (the first one is in the next video) and those only produce baseline guys, you know the behavior and positioning of the shield guys are a choice rather than a quirk. Soon we will see how much of a problem they really are.

berryjon
May 30, 2011

I have an invasion to go to.

And not one word on how that last set-piece is straight out of The Rock? For shame!

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




berryjon posted:

And not one word on how that last set-piece is straight out of The Rock? For shame!

I haven't seen The Rock in so long I lost an ability to recall that sequence while playing this.

For the most part I think this game is really fair to the player. There's not a ton of AI you can game like you may have expected to in a lot of shooters from the same period (I'm looking at you, Shadow Ops: Red Mercury), but you also don't often get put into situations that seem unwinnable. As long as you understand the enemy types and know to headshot everyone you are able to clear out most rooms. Until now. In this video you will end up seeing the first time in the game where it may be impossible to just blindly shoot your way out of a situation. I feel like this is supposed to be some sort of skill check where you have a lot of people shooting at you and a number of enemy types to deal with and limited resources (nowhere near as limited as in the game's last room, but we'll get to that). You want to walk into the final room with all your grenades, but that's near impossible. The game's level design is actually built to make you want to use them, as you see I did, to ensure you are low when you get to this last set piece. Then, it does something more evil in that it does not allow the enemies to drop grenades until you clear out the enemies who you want to use the grenades on. You see why they did this at the end of the level: you could have skipped the entire fight if enemies supplied you with explosives throughout. That's some foresight on the part of the developers, but also super evil. Also, glitches make a comeback.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




Check it out, there is a sky in this video. One of the YouTube comments led me to the solution to get the skybox to show up, but for some reason it also generates a weird white line in the better quality graphics mode I've been playing in. The lower quality isn't that bad, I just wished it solved more issues. I accepted there would be problems when playing this on an emulator, I just wish they weren't so obvious to the viewers.

We get the glorious introduction to the best weapon in the game here, the M249B. Every other non "power weapon" in this game has an exaugurated magazine and the only Light Machine Gun we'll see is no different. It combines the range and stopping power of the M16 with the fire rate of the AK and the recoil of the MP5. That may sound like a terrible chimera, but it works incredibly well. You can drat near snipe with this thing, or just spray and pray with the oversized mag. In the levels where it is an option I will always pick it up simply because there is always a point where firing everything you have in a magazine will get you out of a bad situation with at least some health left. My use of it is more pronounced in the next video, so stick around.

Besides that, we also get a new shotgun. I think it is supposed to be an M870 or something in that family. I feel like it has better range than the SPAS, if not better stopping power. I also love the animation when you cycle the action or whatever you call it and load the next round. Seeing the shell pop up and into place is the kind of detail they don't bother with in big budget games today and a good reminder about how much Criterion wanted the guns to be the star of the game.

Lazyfire
Feb 4, 2006

God saves. Satan Invests




Let's talk about the gun selection in Black. You don't really have "options" in what you carry, each level has a single weapon that the rank and file enemies carry and drop ammo for that weapon's type along with the gun. Ammo for specialty weapon types like shotguns, sniper rifles and rocket launchers can be found in levels where those guns can be found in the hands of special enemy types, and those enemy types will also drop some ammo for their weapons. This basically means you are forced into using a workhorse gun, generally the one Keller pulls out at the start of each mission, and back it up with what the designers thought would be a useful sidearm, usually not in your inventory when a mission kicks off. For me, this is almost always going to be a shotgun for a few reasons. It can knock over the shotgun guys, it'll one hit kill most regular enemies even with glancing hits and even though both of the shotguns in the game are tube magazine pump action things you can fire and reload fairly quickly. Being able to interrupt reloading to fire at any time is greatly appreciated because the AI in the game gets weird about rushing you at certain times.

Each level contains a hidden weapon as well, usually one you won't see much ammo for. They are generally stronger than the "intended" weapon type, but will have limited life in your hands. The M16 I found a couple videos back is the prototype here. It was crazy useful, but I was often just getting by on bullet count.

My gripe with the game is the lack of weapon variety in each stage. There are some levels where the SMGs they force feed you make total sense, and others where you just want an assault rifle badly. You may get an RPG early in the level that the designers intended you hold on to for a specific sequence much later, but if you don't know that you may use both rockets it came with well before then. The last level is a main offender on all this. SMGs everywhere and people blasting at you from windows and balconies where you really just want something with more range. Say what you want about Call of Duty, but it's rare to play a single level of one of those games where you have no weapon variety and feel like you don't have the tools available to get through whatever you are up against. Having a specified weapon in mind for each level should have led to designing for that weapon type, but instead it feels like a missed opportunity to showcase each weapon type.

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berryjon
May 30, 2011

I have an invasion to go to.

Setting your clock two weeks forward won't get rid of the snipers, it'll just give you two weeks lag.

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