Showing posts with label games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label games. Show all posts

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Zero of Time

I’ve recently started playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time some 10+ years out of sync with the rest of the world. This isn’t the first time I’ve attempted to play Ocarina, but it’s the first time I intend to finish. When The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker launched back in 2003 I attempted to play the GC version of Ocarina that I got as a promotional item. What I discovered, much to my shock was that Ocarina of Time was a frustrating mess. I got maybe a third of the way through the game and stopped, not for any specific reason, but because it didn’t captivate me enough to continue despite being a core Zelda game.

For years I’ve heard nothing but praises for Ocarina of Time. There are many that herald it as their favorite Zelda game and my only explanation for this is the same I give for the preponderance of people who claim Final Fantasy 7 as their favorite of that series: Ocarina was the first Zelda game for an entire generation of gamers. Having been alive and playing through most of the commercial history of gaming, I don’t really experience this effect so much with games. I’ve certainly had it happen with music, where my first exposure to a band is one of their later albums and it ends up being my favorite. Regardless of that effect, if Ocarina is the favorite Zelda game of an entire generation, they’ve really lowered their expectations compared to mine.

Now let’s be frank, the basics of Ocarina are the same as any other Zelda game and at that level there is nothing out of sync in this title with other games in the series. The general thrust of any Zelda game is that you explore a large overworld area and delve into a series of puzzling dungeons that require you to unlock access to a special item in order to be find and defeat the end boss. It’s the very model of a purely item-based progression. The more you put into a Zelda game, the more you get out of it. Feeling a little weak? Go exploring and find new ways to get more hearts on your life bar. Stuck as to how to get ahead? Find new ways to use the last item you received from a dungeon and explore the new areas that open up. It’s a great format that has stood the test of time and almost never gets old in any permutation. So why am I so unimpressed with Ocarina?

The first problem may just be a problem for me. I grew up a console gamer in the days of D-Pads and two-button controls. Just before the N64 and PS1 came to prominence, I made the switch to being primarily a PC Gamer. The first real 3D games I played were on a PC and therefore, my mind is wired for mouse controls … smooth, reactive mouse controls. If you put me anywhere near an analog stick I’m going to have trouble, but I’ve learned to manage it. For 3rd person games I don’t tend to have much trouble these days, but I’ve learned that controlling a 1st person game with anything but a keyboard and mouse will lead to broken controllers and endless rage. That being said, Ocarina shouldn’t be a huge problem for me as it’s mainly a 3rd person game. Sadly this is not the case. I’ll chalk it up to the newness of the system for which Ocarina was developed and the lack of consideration in the controller for proper camera control (as displayed among most Japanese developers in my experience) but controlling Link in Ocarina makes me want to hurt someone. First off, there is no such thing as precise movement in the game. Every twitch of my controller sends Link careening in one direction or another and often way off whatever mark I want him to hit. Secondly, the camera fails to follow where I’m looking, which would be almost forgivable except that it does so in such an extreme manner. I understand that I’m not always going to want to be looking where my character is looking, but the camera in Ocarina lags so far behind that I’m constantly hitting the target button to face it forwards again. At the very least the designers should have realized that when I’m moving forward I’m going to want to see where I’m going and that the camera should behave with less elasticity in that situation. Granted, I eventually got used to the controls, but I was a good 1/3 to ½ of the way through the game when I did.

My second problem is the tone of much of the game and the way it keeps butting in to “help” me. Yes, a lot of this is just hate for Navi, a useful but ultimately intrusive game system/plot device that’s constantly interrupting me with inane tidbits and hints about things I’ve already figured out. Beyond that though the tone of the early game especially is far too childish for my liking; or rather it’s childish without being fleshed out. There’s a definite appreciation for and attempt to emulate the works of Hiyao Miyazaki in the early sections of the game. The character design, the themes, everything is owed to Miyazaki’s masterful animations, but there’s just not enough meat here to bring it to life in the way a Miyazaki film does. I get these boring fragments of clich├ęd and all-to-obvious exposition from almost everyone I speak to. I feel as if every sentence should culminate with “wink, wink” in acknowledgement of the overly cartoonish way that the story is being handed to me on a plate. This isn’t to say that I need a grim and gritty Zelda game with tons of prose or extended cut scenes, but either say less or say more in a better way. Additionally, the overall story has never thrilled me. Ocarina is essentially a rehashing of Link to the Past, which rehashed, but greatly expanded upon the original Legend of Zelda. I realize that Zelda games and their stories are formulaic, but as someone who has been exploring Hyrule for 25 years, I like it when things are changed up a bit. This is likely why I thoroughly enjoyed Link’s Awakening and The Wind Waker especially so taking the time-tested formula and giving it an interesting spin; at least geographically.

I suppose my final gripe about the game is how confined the overworld feels. Without any exaggeration, the overworld in Ocarina of Time is composed primarily of several linear levels with various secrets that can be uncovered. Compared to the original Zelda, which throws you to the wolves in a completely open world, Link to the Past which does a similar thing albeit with more story, and Wind Waker with its vast ocean, Ocarina may as well be on rails.

It may pain me to say it, but as I’m nearly done with the game now, I have to admit that Ocarina isn’t all bad. The expected item based progression (while dulled due to the linear nature of the world building) is as compelling as it’s been for 25 years. I find it confusing how other open world and sandbox games don’t try to emulate this. The Zelda style of item progression (also on display in the Metroid-Vania style of games) is incredibly compelling as it only requires very little of the player, but baits them with so much more should they choose to put in the extra effort. Typical open world games just give you more missions for playing the game, a Zelda game does that while also enticing you with abilities and tools that will make that added game play more interesting and fun. Additionally many of the dungeons in Ocarina of Time are (once you get past the control issues) as thoughtful as ever, with boss fights that are both familiar and innovative at the same time. And once you get past the early sections of the game, there’s far less hand-holding and frolicking and while the story is nowhere near as powerful as it tries to be, it’s still marginally compelling.

Anyway, that’s my take on the game at ¾ of the way through. It could change in the final couple dungeons of the game, but I doubt it. Maybe it isn’t the worst Zelda game of all time (and “bad” for Zelda is still miles ahead of most game) but if Ocarina was your first exposure to Zelda, you really owe it to yourself to play the original game, Link to the Past, and Link’s Awakening. Despite 25 years and numerous technological improvements, the original Legend of Zelda still remains one of my two favorite games of all time and unlike many older games it still holds up in my mind as both fun and challenging.

Summer project update: Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about my summer project. In fact most of this post was written at Houndstooth this past 4th of July and while I finished writing it at home today, I did spend some time at Dolce Vita earlier.

Friday, June 24, 2011

E3 2011 - Part 2

Rage
Wasn't this a driving game a few years back? Apparently Id has decided to go back to what they're best at and make an FPS. While I'm looking forward to this game, don't mind me if I'm a little underwhelmed. It's not that anything about it looks bad, it's just that conceptually and even technically there's nothing ground breaking from what I've seen of Rage. What I have seen looks like an incredibly tight FPS, very much in the style of play I expect from Id. What does that mean though "style of play"? For Id the style is a throwback to the genre they adopted as a zygote and raised to maturity, where variety of weapons, waves of baddies, and a bit of creeping horror were par for the course. From everything I've seen of Rage it seems to be progressing in this direction, which is a nice break from the quick time event laden cover shooters we're being exposed to non-stop from every other direction. I'm looking forward to a thoroughly modern experience that at it's core adheres to the gameplay tropes I've come to revere from Id games for the last 15 years.

Bastion
I'm not going to talk much about Bastion except to say that it looks like it's finally coming out. All told, the game that got everyone talking about the gimmick of the on-the-fly narrator seems to have become something more than just that and I'm looking forward to exploring what appears to be a visually interesting game world with enough unique narrative touches to create a compelling experience beyond graphics and gimmicks.

Batman: Arkham City
The first game (Batman: Arkham Asylum) was simply amazing, a 3rd person action adventure title with excellent, uncomplicated controls that had just enough arcade brawler and just enough Splinter Cell to leave me feeling like I was Batman after each session. Arkham City looks to continue in that vein with a host of improvements, a larger, more open world, and a playable Catwoman. These guys can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, so they might as well already have my money.

Aliens: Colonial Marines
There hasn't been a really good Aliens game since Monolith's Aliens vs. Predator 2 in 2001. The one thing anyone who grew up watching and re-watching Aliens in the 90's has ever wanted to do is to simulate being a colonial space marine. James Cameron's sci-fi action film gave us just enough reference to feel what this would be like and subsequent games made it real, while sharing play time with Aliens and Predators of course. This time around we get to be the Marines 100% of the time and as a project that's been cooking for a while I can only hope it's been time well spent. This could be the game to revitalize a franchise from the slow, painful death brought upon it by progressively worse AvP films.

Sonic Generations
I haven't been a fan of Sonic since the game moved away from 2D as it's primary view and as most will tell you, there hasn't been much recently to be a fan of. With last years Sonic 4 however and the upcoming Sonic Generations it appears as if Sega is rebooting everyone's favorite speed demon in a way that everyone can enjoy. So far what I've seen of Sonic Generations is reassuring. There's no narrative fluff clogging up this game, no crazy powers, no dumb sidekicks, just Sonic in 2D and 3D doing what he does best: go fast!

Tomb Raider
Looks like they're rebooting Tomb Raider and I may actually be interested for the first time ever. I never got into the Tomb Raider games mainly because the thing I was best at in them was dying due to shitty controls. Add to that experience a save/continue system that made me want to throw controllers across the room, and I never did more than casually play a friend's copy here and there. This new game looks interesting though. At the very least, controls and save mechanics have evolved and standardized to a point where I'm less likely to be hindered by them. What I've seen so far has promise, but one thing needs to go ... Lara Croft needs to shut the hell up. The videos they showed at E3 were rife with unneeded gasps, grunts, and comments by the player character. This is all great for a demo video, but in a game where I may have to redo sections of a level, it's going to get old fast. Leave the gasps to the player and keep Lara's input to a minimum. Main characters in action games are better off seen than heard.

BioShock: Infinite
I remember distinctly playing the demo for the original BioShock. I did so on the Xbox 360 because there wasn't a PC demo (or the Xbox one was out first, I don't remember) and the combination of gameplay, art direction, and narrative sucked me in instantly. I remember posting some sort of amazing praise online immediately afterwards begging my other game dev friends to check it out and that this was what "good" looked like. The footage of Infinite brings back the same memories. I am simply blow away by the style of their game world and the pace of their game play. It is going to be a treat to delve into another BioShock world again for the first time. Columbia is the new Rapture.

Elder Scrolls VI: Skyrim
Just give me system requirements already. I built the PC previous to this one to meet the requirements of Elder Scrolls V: Oblivion and I'll alter this one for Skyrim most certainly. Something the crew at Bethesda has been fantastic at since Morrowind is simulating worlds and while one can certainly argue about the repetitive core game play of Oblivion and some "lifelike" systems that weren't quite there, you have to agree that there is something wonderful about an open world that's ripe to explore. I think they really got it right in Fallout 3, a game that I logged 60+ hours on and that had me scouring the wastes on and off for several years. Skyrim looks like it's seeking to combine the lessons learned from Oblivion and Fallout 3 and make a better game all around, at least that's what I hope.

Quick Shots:

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
I mentioned being interested in this one last year and it looks like it's finally on it's way out. For all intents and purposes this has all the earmarks of a fun, stylistic indie game and I'm always a fan of that.

Modern Warfare 3
At this point I may not even get MW3. Let's face facts. BF3 comes out a month earlier and gives me all features for free. Unless it turns out to be less than what it appears to be (which is "awesome") then I may not even consider picking up MW3, BF3 will be "the game".

Journey
There's nothing much to say about this game except it's curiously moving and I haven't even played it. There's just something about the presentation that evokes a sense of loss, but also a sense of wonder and adventure. Thatgamecompany has made a name for themselves by being atmospheric and Journey looks to be taking that a step further and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

Mass Effect 3
I won't say much about Mass Effect 3 being that I work for BioWare and I'm not going to say anything bad. I've been a fan of the series since the start and I'm very much looking forward to how this space epic is going to end. I honestly don't know anymore than anyone else out there right now and I wouldn't want to. I'm very much looking forward to completing my Shepherd's adventure next year though.

Overstrike
Not having been a big console gamer for a long time I never developed the same affinity for developers like Insomniac that others have. I will say this though, I'm aware of Insomniac's resume and Overstrike looks like good fun. All I've seen so far is pre-rendered though, so time will tell how it all actually plays. I expect to be pleasantly surprised.

From Dust
It looked good last year and it looks even better this year. The "god" game has really been dormant for some time (Black and White aside) and this looks like the kind of resurrection that I can really get behind.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

E3 2011 - Part 1

The blog was prophesied and inevitable and so here I am writing about E3 2011. I haven't physically attended an E3 in roughly 9 years, but with the right internet resources it's possible to actually get more out of not being at the show than getting lost in the crazed cacophony of lights and sounds that is the floor at E3. This year as with last I relied heavily on E3feed.com as an aggregate for everything coming out of this years convention. The overall takeaway compared to last year is that this is the year that everyone is making good on the promises made last summer. The vast majority of games being spoken of were projects that I had seen revealed this time last year, so while there wasn't a lot of "new" this time around, it was nice to see so many projects coming to fruition and ultimately leading to what is going to be a very competitive holiday season across all platforms. But that's enough introduction, we're here to talk about games so let's get to it.

Battlefield 3
Going into this show there wasn't really much we knew about Battlefield 3 save that is was being developed by DICE and it looked as if EA wasn't going to be playing nice anymore when it came to the multiplayer military shooter genre. You see, Activision has owned this segment of the gaming population since the first Call of Duty: Modern Warfare game came out several years ago. Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops only cemented this position. EA wants in on this territory though and while last year's Medal of Honor fell flat, DICE's Battlefield: Bad Company 2 showed promise. Indeed, the Battlefield franchise has always been a force to reckon with and despite some bumps along the road, DICE has been consistent in producing quality games. Having them helm an initiative to unseat Activision is a no-brainer, especially after Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward more or less walked off the job en-masse after allegations of unpaid bonus dividends from the studio heads to Activision. If ever there were a time to strike it was now and strike EA did. We had seen a bunch of footage from Modern Warfare 3 leading up to E3, but nary a peep from Battlefield 3 except for the months old teaser. During the EA press conference, Battlefield 3 was revealed in all it's glory, garnering a much deserved outpouring of praise from the gaming press and fans. Planing to launch a full month before MW3, with an open beta a month before that, and completely free to play online (a shot across the bow to MW3's "elite" program") BF3 is poised to storm PC's and consoles this fall and take dominance over Modern Warfare. Is it a lock? It's still to early to tell. BF3 certainly looks like the better game, leveraging DICE's new frostbyte engine, but is the game play going to resonate with the players? Part of Modern Warfare's appeal is the easy of entry. It's a delicate formula that we've seen before with games like Unreal Tournament, Counter Strike, and the original Quake. In order to gain multiplayer dominance you have to look good, play good, and get people engrossed in the game experience from the word go, while still providing a incentives and challenge for the expert players. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was a great game, but it wasn't approachable. Can DICE repeat history and make Battlefield 3 every bit the approachable game that Battlefield 1942 was? I guess we'll find out when the beta goes live in September.

Prey 2
When we first saw Prey 2 several months back, we were treated to a single image that looked nothing like what we had experienced from the series' progenitor. Prey's reluctant Native American hero had been replaced with someone who looked more like Sam Fischer from the Splinter Cell games. We were told that the game was still in the same overall universe as Prey 1, but that instead of being on Earth and dealing with the alien invasion, Prey 2 would take us to an alien world with a human protagonist only marginally related to the first game. Human Head released a proper trailer about a week out from the start of E3 that if anything, assuaged any fears about what Prey 2 may or may not be. Yes, the game is going to be different, but if that trailer is any proof of concept, they're barking up the right tree. Think Blade Runner meets Grand Theft Auto on an alien world. I don't know what they have in store and while it isn't Prey 1, it isn't Splinter Cell either. Whatever the case, I'm interested to see how it pans out.

The Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword
Anyone who knows me knows that while I love the Zelda games (the first installment is one of my two all-time favorites) I am not a huge fan of Ocarina of Time. Chalk it up to never having had an N64 and thus never having played the game until the Game Cube port, or the fact that Ocarina is the first Zelda game for an entire generation (the damn kids these days and their lack of historical context), but I just never got into the game. I appreciate a lot of the things it tried to do, but as the first 3D Zelda I feel it stumbles along the way. I am much more enamored of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In fact, my love of Wind Waker makes me dislike Ocarina that much more due to the prejudice levied at the game by so-called fans wanting a more mature Zelda game. I'm sorry kids, but just because you were little when Ocarina came out and now you're an angst ridden youth, doesn't mean Link should be too. You know why? 2 reasons: a) There were 4 Zelda games before Ocarina (counting Link's Awakening) and b) every game retells the legend of the Hero of Hyrule, no matter what age he is. The other fact at play here is that Wind Waker was beautiful and I loved the game play. Personally I found the open world sailing to be an excellent spin on the type of open world game play we were already accustomed to in the Zelda series. Anyway, the short take away from all this is that I'm a Zelda fan, but at this point in time I'm a picky Zelda fan. Wind Waker showed me two things about my affection for the series that I hadn't before realized. The first is that I prefer I stylized rendition of Hyrule; for me it fits the tone and my own nostalgia of pixelized Links and the very cartoonish renderings in the game manuals. The second is that I really like when liberties are taken with Hyrule and the Zelda world itself. Ocarina was nothing but a bunch of locales I had been adventuring in for 20 years, but Wind Waker changed all that by flooding everything.

Now, take all this into consideration and then take a look at The Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword. That's right, they are making a Zelda game just for me. I honestly don't have anything to say after watching these videos. I think I've summed it up well enough above that anyone can plainly see this game has no weaknesses from my perspective. I never finished Ocarina, I probably won't finish Twilight Princess, but I am itching to get my hands on Skyward Sword as soon as humanly possible. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rift: Because I've Seen It All Before

A new MMO came out today called Rift. Nothing I've seen of this game has not made me yawn. It's not that I think the game is bad, but I've seen it before under many different names and I'm tired of it. As usual however, the MMO-hungry masses seem to have flocked to this game in hopes that it may inject some ingenuity into a genre still shell-shocked by WoW. I like MMO's, but let's face facts: there's nothing incredibly new here.

I've been playing MMO's since Ultima Online and I've been involved in making them for nearly as long. You can't beat WoW by being WoW, just like WoW didn't beat EverQuest by being EverQuest. I know we've all accepted this sort of revisionist history where WoW was always meant to dethrone EQ and EQ wasn't really that big a game anyway, but that was never the case. WoW was a HUGE risk for Blizzard, but they did what they always do, they took all the best ideas out there, threw in some unique twists and improvements, and a TON of polish, and it worked. I haven't seen anyone else do this since, not to the same degree at least.

MMO's currently find themselves much in the same place that FPS games were in the late 90's. Id Software with their Doom and Quake games simply dominated and it wasn't until Valve came along with Half-Life - a game that took all the best ideas out there, threw in some unique twists and improvements, and a TON of polish - that things started to change and Id was dethroned.

When you're making games at this level, you have to realize that you're making pop music. At the core it's always the same damn song, but when someone comes along with just the right tweaks and at just the right time, it makes major waves and a new paradigm is created. Rift is not this game, but I know I'm going to be hearing about how "this is the one" and how it's "so different" at least for about a month until everyone gets tired of it. I know this because I've seen it all before. I sincerely hope that Rift has the staying power to remain profitable for Trion Worlds, but this is not a game that's going to shift any paradigms. Is there a game that can do this? Hell yes and I think we'll be seeing it soon, but understand this: WoW is not going to die some grand movie monster death. The game has peaked and what follows will be a slow decline, hastened perhaps by the arrival of the next paradigm. And what will the future bring after that? God, I hope it doesn't bring anymore larger than life MMO's designed to work for all players at all times. I think there's much more ground to be covered with niche games, but that's a subject for another time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bulletstorm - First Impression

Ok, so the first 15-20 minutes of Bulletstorm are fantastically, utterly, unbearably awful, but 5 minutes after that you completely forget about it. Why is it awful?

First, it features the same, tired, tutorial-shoehorned-into-the-story device as just about every game these days, but I can overlook that.

Second, there's way too much talking in an attempt to interest me in a group of 2-dimensional characters and their back story. Talk is cheap, let's start blowing things up.

Third, they keep taking control of the camera away from me. There's no reason that nearly all those cinematic sequences couldn't be done with me still in control. It's just jarring (especially on a PC where there is no controller rumble to occupy my grip) to be in the middle of controlling the game and then suddenly not.

That being said, Bulletstorm does away with this pretty quickly and once you start the game proper it's all standard dumb fire FPS action. So far I'm loving it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Coming Soon

I swear, good media comes in waves. More specifically these waves seem to skip years. Whether it's music, movies, or games it seems that while one year you get a bunch of duds, the next you get non-stop hits. 2010 was very much a year of duds or at the very least it was a year of mediocrity. In music and film to be sure and to a lesser degree games, I found myself being underwhelmed more often than not in 2010. 2011 so far is giving a lot more to get excited about. Sure, movies are still unfortunately not meeting anyone's expectations, but I find myself less anticipatory in general of upcoming films. Half the time I'm not aware until just before release that there is something I'm going to want to see in the theater. Such is the nature of my relationship to film and the marketing reality of the films I tend of get excited about. Music is another thing altogether, with 2011 already having produced a couple fairly high profile (in indie circles at least) successes with The Decemberists' latest release The King is Dead and Bright Eyes up coming The People's Key. Both albums are incredibly solid efforts from bands that have both thrilled and disappointed me in the past. Still to come is the 2nd full-length from Rival Schools, 7 years removed from their debut United by Fate. Protest the Hero will be releasing their 3rd full-length in a couple months as well and it looks like there is a new Mountain Goats LP on the horizon too. Altogether it's not a bad start to the year, but what about games.

I tend to get less excited about upcoming games than one might think. Since games are not just my hobby, but my livelihood, my tastes tend to be not so much refined as picky. I'm a great deal more critical of games then I am other forms of media and even with sequels to franchises I already enjoy, I tend to be reserved in my enthusiasm before I actually get my hands on a game. Contrary to this behavior There are several upcoming titles that I am very much looking forward to:

Bulletstorm
If Paul Verhoeven made a video game, this would be it. Why? For all intents and purposes this looks to be an FPS satire that (like Verhoeven's films) is also a damn good game in it's own right. Developed by Epic, everything I've seen of this game since first laying eyes on it in an EA marketing meeting last year, just screams tongue in cheek, un-adulterated, over the top action that is both parody and homage to modern action gaming. It should be a fun ride.

Crysis 2
The first Crysis game is exactly the type of experience that Bulletstorm looks to parody and the second shows no signs of backing down from the hollywood-style action of the first. The first game was kind of a guilty pleasure for me. Like a good summer blockbuster, Crysis was a thrill ride from start to finish. The story is nothing special and neither is the voice (and in game character) acting, but the game play is solid and it does a great job of keeping you glued to the screen. By constantly building the narrative tension, by introducing new elements just on the edge of what you expect, Crysis keeps you moving forward until you're caught up in the whirlwind experience of the game's climax. Crysis 2 looks to provide the same cinematic action at much the same high quality level I've come to expect from Cevat Yerli's crew.

Dragon Age 2
Sure, I get a free copy for working at BioWare, but even if I didn't I'd be eagerly anticipating this title. I know people were initially concerned about the shift towards a more action-oriented combat and a static (as opposed to player-created) main character and I can't blame them, but what has evolved looks like an exciting hybrid of  Mass Effect and the first Dragon Age and I can't wait to get my hands on it. The Dragon Age universe is an interesting place to play and with Dragon Age 2's story spanning 10 years and multiple protagonists, I'm very much looking forward to diving into that realm again.

Portal 2
I didn't think Valve could outdo Portal 1, in fact I have a note somewhere from last year to write a blog about how Portal 2 will never be as good as Portal 1. The first game relied so much on the unexpected in creating the mythos that made Portal not just a fun game, but an incredibly compelling experience that took the industry by storm. How can Portal 2, with the secrets of Aperture Science having already been laid bare still manage to create as compelling an experience? Well I can't speak for the "story", but everything I've seen of the game play for Portal 2 certainly has me compelled. If Valve have upped (or at least found a way) to maintain the compelling nature of the story in Portal 2 as much as it seems to have done with the game play, then this is an experience I'm very much looking forward to.

And that's just the beginning of the year. Dead Space 2 is already out and amazing, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is looming somewhere on the horizon, Elder Scrolls V and Mass Effect 3 are slated for the end of the year, and there's still The Last Guardian, L.A. Noire and a bunch of indie releases still to come as well. Of course this can only mean one thing: next year is going to be pretty mediocre as far as games go, but right about now I don't care. It's been a while since I've had games who's releases I crave and in addition to everything else coming in movies, music, and elsewhere, I'm looking forward to a great time with some hot games in 2011.

Posted from my laptop @ Spiderhouse

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Link : Open-World Zombie Survival Shambles Slowly Towards Xbox Live Arcade [Microsoft Game Studios]

Click here to read Open-World Zombie Survival Shambles Slowly Towards Xbox Live ArcadeOpen-World Zombie Survival Shambles Slowly Towards Xbox Live Arcade [Microsoft Game Studios]:

"Code name Class3 is not an action game with zombie targets. It's an open-world zombie survival game, and it's coming to the Xbox Live Arcade courtesy of Undead Labs and Microsoft Game Studios."

This looks promising.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: Machinarium

There wasn't much I was interested in purchasing (or hadn't already purchased this summer) in the recent Steam sale, but the indie point and click adventure game Machinarium caught my eye so I gave it a chance. Having just finished the game I would have to highly recommend it. The stylized sound and visuals are incredibly well done and made the game a delight to keep coming back to. The game has no text so the majority of the interaction is between the main character, the world, and the character's inventory. Any story movement or exposition is handled via animated thought balloons over characters head when you interact with them.  Functionally the game employs the classic adventure game mechanic of picking up items and combining them either with other items or objects in the world to solve puzzles. The variety of puzzles goes beyond that though, with a number more traditional single board-style puzzles or games and there are even a couple more modern arcade like puzzles/games as well. The difficulty ramps up fairly steadily and for the most part the game does a good job of giving the player enough cues to figure out what to do next. As with any adventure game, observation is key, but for those who fail to observe or who try and still can't get past a given puzzle, there are two layers of hints built into the game. The first is a simple one panel image for each area that illustrates the key goal or solution the player should be looking for. The second is a flat out walk through. The hints are accessed by pressing a button on the top right of the screen as is the walk through. The catch with the walk through however is that in order to unlock them, you need to play a quick side scrolling shooter game. The game is easy enough, to the point where you start to lament having to play it again when you get stuck, but I applaud the developers attempt to put a little game play into cheating. Somehow it doesn't make it feel so bad. My only regret with Machinarium is that there isn't more of it. I'd love to get lost in that world again for a much longer period of time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Link: Why Do The Spike VGAs Even Bother With "Awards" Part? [Spike]

Click here to read Why Do The Spike VGAs Even Bother With "Awards" Part?Why Do The Spike VGAs Even Bother With "Awards" Part? [Spike]
I can't agree more. I have no problem with the Spike VGAs as a media event, in fact it comes along at a time when the hype machine has slowed due to the holidays and serves to get people interested in what's next while they're currently purchasing what's current. My real problem is the masquerade that is the awards. Ditch the awards and you've still got 75% of the content and probably 90% of the reason people show up to begin with. Also, you wouldn't be pissing people like me off: professional game developers who prefer a real awards show to the "me too" antics of the VGAs.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

That Time Again

Another year, another Spike Video Game Awards show, another win for BioWare, and I still don't care. Oh it's nice to win anything, but a VGA means nothing to me. A VGA win is the equivalent of one of those exuberant film endorsements solicited from people coming out of free viewings and added to the front of a trailer. The VGAs are a media event, a showcase for new game trailers, an addendum to the year's convention season. It's not a show about the artistic and technical achievements of game developers, it's a chance for Spike to generate ratings by promising celebrities and new game footage. The show is nothing more than marketing and as such is very effective, but ask me if I care about winning a VGA and I'm going to shrug. My company paid to have some trailers shown and that means more people are going to be aware of our games, if Spike decided to tack an award onto the proceeding in order to legitimize the experience then great, but that's not the point. If someone wants to televise the AIAS Dice awards then I'd watch, those are awards that matter to me; everything else is marketing and pandering. The value of awards such as the VGAs amount to about as much as ad copy on the back of a box or the front page of a company website. It's nice to be recognized, but there is no prestige in the prize for me. The public can support us by buying our games, that's what will help us the most and in the case of BioWare, they have. When I want awards I'll go to my peers and serious analysts, sorry Spike.

Sent from my iPhone @ Epoch Coffee

Monday, September 13, 2010

Links 09-13-2010

PunkNews.org - Dismemberment Plan to reunite

"The Washington Post is reporting that seminal late 90s/early 00s post-punk outfit Dismemberment Plan will reunite early next year for five shows in support of the vinyl reissue of their 1999 full-length Emergency & I."
> And here I thought Travis Morrison had quit music forever. Not that I'm complaining. While I won't be able to see the shows, it will be nice to have Emergency & I on vinyl.

PunkNews.org - Cave In to release 'Anomalies Vol. 1'

"Cave In have announced plans to release a new odds and ends collection entitled Anomalies Vol. 1. It's due out December 14, 2010 via Hydra Head Records."
> This plus the recent announcement of a new full-length in the works are definitely a good sign

Kotaku - Psychonauts Meets Inception (And It Works)

"Double Fine Productions' Psychonauts, the classic psychic adventure, when cut to ape Christopher Nolan's Inception scene-by-scene works shockingly well. Either consider this fan-made mash-up a dose of clever nostalgia or a reminder that, yes, you really should play some Psychonauts."
> Which just serves to remind me that I need to play Psychonauts again sometime. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Links 09-09-2010

WWdN: In Exile - bumper stickers for proud gamermoms and gamerdads
"I wonder if the current generation of about-to-be-born geeklings will appreciate how awesome it is to have geekmoms and geekdads?"
> Anyone else remember those "trophy" statues you could get at the Nintendo Store at Toys R Us? Anyone remember the Nintendo Store at Toys R Us?
TIGSource - PAX 2010: Solace
"So, I just got back from my day at PAX. There was all sorts of delightful stuff on display, fun things to do, and some very impressive demos in the expo hall. The one game that I was utterly blown away by, however, was not LittleBigPlanet 2 or Duke Nukem Forever or Final Fantasy XIV, but a student game in the PAX 10 called Solace."
> I think I could win Indie Game Bingo with this one.
Kotaku - Bastion Was The Other Buzz Game Of Penny Arcade Expo, For Good Reasons
"'He gets up.' That's the line I can't forget from Penny Arcade Expo last week. Duke Nukem had some good one-liners, sure. But Bastion is the other game people couldn't stop buzzing about. To understand it, you needed to listen to it."
> Sometimes a single gimmick is all the hook you need.

Friday, September 3, 2010

PAX Links

I'm going to be grabbing links here and there for things that catch my eye from this year's PAX Prime coverage and throwing them in here throughout the weekend ... or however long the decent coverage lasts. My comments will be in red:

12:20pm - Kotaku: New Platformer Is Ikaruga Without The Spaceships
"Ubisoft, when you show a game that is essentially Ikaruga reimagined as a platformer, congratulations, you have our undivided attention."
I want to see this in motion.
12:20pm -  Kotaku: Duke Nukem Forever Spotted At PAX 2010
"As this year's PAX convention is just about to start, photos from the Penny Arcade Expo show floor confirm that Duke Nukem Forevernow with more Gearbox Software—will have a strong presence at the show."
1:26pm - Kotaku: Your First Look at Duke Nukem Forever in Action
"Yes, Gearbox Software really is turning the perpetual vaporware Duke Nukem Forever into a real live video game bound for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360."
Do we really consider this to be DNF though? Is this the game that's been done and redone for the last decade or is this just the game that Gearbox made to satisfy Take Two's need to continue the franchise?
1:36pm - Joystiq: First Mega Man Universe gameplay footage revealed
"The Mega Man Universe teaser trailer hinted at all sorts of cross-game franchise madness when it debuted earlier this year, and the first gameplay trailers do little more than stoke our curiosity all the more. Three teasers (courtesy of 1UP, GameSpot and IGN) each begin with an introduction from creator Keiji Inafune, and then launch into gameplay footage of this prettied up side-scrolling Mega Man title."
Yeah ... still not sure what to expect from this. That initial trailer a couple weeks ago was AMAZING though.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

E3 2010

With the hype machine for video games active so far in advance of releases it's not rare for me to get interested in a title and then completely forget about it by the time it launches. When I was younger and I used to subscribe to several game magazines at a time I used to follow the PR progress of games I was interested in. These days (especially as part of the industry myself) I don't partake of the hype buffet, rich and bountiful though it may be. Still, it's hard not to notice some of these titles around E3 times, especially when they're on display. It would be like going to the beach to get some sun and failing to notice that you're also surrounded by gorgeous women.

So in an effort to catalogue the beauty I see before me and to hopefully remember them later, I'm going to use this post to grab links to various E3 items of interest. I guess it's my way of saying to these games "I'd hit that."

Metroid: Other M's E3 Trailer - The Prime games weren't bad, but console FPS isn't my thing. This looks like a good compromise and from a talented development team as well. No Ninja Gaiden dial-a-combos though please.

Portal 2 Trailer: The Bitch Is Back - Portal 2 has a long way to go to even get close to the original, but it doesn't mean I'm any less interested.

Medal Of Honor's Singleplayer Trailer: Quadbikes At War - If the new MoH can do what the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games did for game play without being as vapid then they've already made an improvement.

Zelda: Skyward Sword's Debut Trailer - While some are undoubtedly better than others, Zelda games are always well executed and fun. Being the first one specifically designed for the Wii should make this a good one to bet on.

Epic Mickey -Warren Specter is a very prominent figure in my personal pantheon on gods. The fact that he's able to take something as routine as Mickey Mouse and put a new and interesting spin on it is testament to his genius.

Dead Rising 2 - The only thing that sullied the first game was the whole time limit mechanic. If that's gone then let the zombie smashing begin.

Kid Icarus: Uprising - I probably won't play this due to it's being on a handheld, but the first Kid Icarus game in 25 years bears mentioning.

Bulletstorm - Ok, so the game sounds like it was written by a 13 year old boy, but you cannoy deny the sheer unadulterated fun present in the action here.

Crysis 2 - Many shooters strive to feel like big budget action movies that you play, the first Crysis delivered ... right down to the bad dialog and acting. The point is that the game play and the cinematic experience were solid. I don't use the term "rollercoaster ride" lightly, but it certainly was and I'm hoping for more of the same in the sequel. That and a reason to upgrade my PC.

Xbox Live: Summer of Arcade - Mainly interested in Limbo and Monday Night Combat here. Unfortunately the Castelvania doesn't thrill me, although nothing short of a new Symphony of the night is likley to.

Hydrophobia - It's gotten some good press. Looks like a decent action/adventure title with a gameplay twist.

Journey - I never played Flower, but flOw was good and these guys are seriously on the cutting edge of the "Games as Art" debate.

Dust - I don't know that Eric Chahi has done anything notable since Another World (aka Out of This World), but he's a visionary to be sure and this looks very interesting.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet - I think it must only be before or after something becomes popular that it can be truly artistic. When one is concerned with being pleasing to the broadest audience possible the results feel homogenized. That indie game developers are resurrecting nearly dead 2D game types and using the technology of today to put such amazing artistic and game play spins on them is exactly what I hoped would happen to gaming. Sure they do it partly out of necessity with smaller budgets and teams meaning less cutting edge graphics, etc., but they make up for it by being daring in other ways and since they aren't on the cutting edge they're already in a niche and can therefore get away with it. Sorry ... bit of a diatribe there, but this is one of those games like World of Goo, Limbo, and Canabalt that does so much while being simple by comparison to big budget gaming.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my own game. Let me just say that as cool as it looks, it's way cooler in person :)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Alpha Protocol: First Impressions

Let's get one thing straight: I really want to love everything Obsidian Entertainment does. The reason for this is simply pedigree. Obsidian was founded by one half of the remnants of Black Isle, makers of such 90's CRPG classics as Fallout 1 and 2, Planescape: Torment, and the Icewind Dale games. Black Isle also helped give BioWare their start with Baldur's Gate. They haven't done too bad for themselves so far. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2 both meant well and had a lot going for them, but they launched in a buggy and more or less unfinished state and in the case of KoTOR 2, never recovered through patching. Still the spark was there and I've been looking forward to their original IP espionage RPG offering with Alpha Protocol.

I haven't spent much time with the game yet, having only played through the tutorial and one of the first missions, but I'm getting sense of what to expect. First things first, the tutorial is grueling. While granted, there are things I need to learn, the in-story start up to the game did more to confuse me than anything else. When you get through the initial jump and you get the option to run through a few obstacle courses - with bonus missions unlocked by excellent performance - things get better. Still, the story from the beginning suffers from a bad case of "that's for me to know and for you to find out." All I know right now is that some bad people in the desert blew up a plane and this warrants a super secret US spy agency to recruit me and send me abroad with a fancy safe house to hole up in. My handlers fall into the predictable categories of: coquettish genius analyst chick, jealous hot shot gadgeteer, surly misanthropic old guy, and non-nonsense in-charge CO. Conversation options so far have made the old guy dislike me, the hot shot neutral, and the CO and the chick like me. What effect this will have remains to be seen.

The RPG elements are almost the same as Mass Effect 1, in fact the skill tree might as well be the same. Loading out your character is somewhat interesting, allowing you to mod your weapons, armor, and gadgets to suit the upcoming operation. The conversation system is even similar, except instead of choosing paraphrases, you choose the general tone of your response. In a typical conversation I'll often be offered choices like: aggressive. professional, or suave, with each one having a different effect on the person I'm talking to based on their own personality. While I prefer the paraphrase system, I don't really mind this lighter approach except that they've saddled it with a timer, so whatever your cursor is on then the NPC is done speaking is the response you give. This is often a hassle when the last thing the NPC says may change how you want to respond.

Where the game seems to shine so far is in the openness of the missions. I'm reminded of Deus Ex in that there are specific objective and story points that I'm going to hit no matter what, but (in the map I played anyway) there are numerous options for achieving those objectives. The obvious options are: stealth or guns blazing, but it's never just one choice. I found myself bouncing between total stealth and avoidance, to sneaky take downs, to outright assaults several times during my mission.

Overall the game is what I think I tend to expect from Obsidian, which is probably best described as: entertaining, but clunky. If the rest of the missions play out with the same breadth of choice my first one did, then I think I'll find a lot to like about Alpha Protocol. Right now I won't say to just run out and buy it, but you could do much worse and it's either this or Splinter Cell for the espionage genre these days.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Would you be willing to date someone who...

 I was recently looking at someone's profile on Okcupid.com and comparing my answers to certain questions to hers, when I came across this one:

"Would you be willing to date someone who plays video games almost every day, for at least 2 hours?"

The question had 4 possible answers:

"Yes, I'd be playing with them"
"Yes, but I would not play that much"
"Yes, but I don't like video games"
"No"

I hadn't yet answered this question and therefore could not see her response, so I did answer it, going with "Yes, I'd be playing with them" as my response and listing that this and the other two "Yes" answers were responses I considered acceptable for a match to have. Having done this I was able to see this woman's response, it was "No." This ruffled my feathers a bit and I decided that this was not someone who I wanted to get back in touch with. Actually it wasn't just this answer, but the fact that she had some very conservative responses to questions for which I have very liberal responses and her answers to several relationship related questions made it somewhat clear that this was the kind of person who would end up breaking my heart, most likely by cheating on me with someone she found more interesting in the moment.

Still, the question "Would you be willing to date someone who plays video games almost every day, for at least 2 hours?"  was the real last straw, especially since I know what the stereotypes are of people who openly admit to being gamers and as a game developer this perturbs me even more so as gaming is not only my hobby but my livelihood. I know too that my being a game developer (a profession that immediately confirms that "yes, I do play games" and that many infer means "it's all I do all day") has narrowed the dating pool for me. This is not something I view as a positive. I've already narrowed the dating pool for myself by choice, in that I'm a picky son of a bitch who's looking for women who are attractive but not in the mainstream media/fashion model/magazine cover sense of the word, are smarter than him, and love music, film, or (gasp) games. That being the case, any further narrowing of the field, especially due to the closed-mindedness of people who flat out assume that those who admit to playing games are not worth the trouble, quite justifiably pisses me off. And since I'm a self-righteous bastard I felt the need to comment on the question on Okcupid.com, the full text of which, is reprinted below:

"Would you be willing to date someone who plays video games almost every day, for at least 2 hours?"

As a professional video game developer I take offense to this question, not so much because it exists, but because of the spirit in which it is asked and often answered. First let me dismiss the #1 myth about my career. Video game developers do not spend all day at work playing games. Depending on the specific area of game development one is in, an average day is spent programming, making art, writing, or designing and implementing game play ideas that others will find fun. Video game development is a field very similar to film making or being a professional musician. All require technical and artistic knowledge and a high level of dedication to one's craft. And yet I've never seen the question posed "Would you be willing to date someone who watches movies almost every day, for at least 2 hours?" or "Would you be willing to date someone who listens to music almost every day, for at least 2 hours?" You wouldn't see that question asked very often and if you did, most people really wouldn't ascribe much meaning or importance to it in relation to their dating life.

Film makers don't spend all day watching other people's movies, although it is important for them to take time to do so, often in their free time. Musicians don't spend all day listening to other people's music, although it is important for them to take time to do so, often in their free time. Video game developers routinely work 8-12 hour days 6-7 days a week at certain points during a project which often takes multiple years of development from start to finish. A single video games is made by dozens and often hundreds of people, not the lone, maverick developer often portrayed by popular media. Video game developers come from all walks of life, all races, creeds, genders, and sexual orientations. Some game developers are comfortable wearing t-shirts and jeans to work, others dress up. In general we're a laid back group. The image of the slovenly, slacker game developer is exaggerated, although (as in every walk of life) such individuals do exist and they are often as ill-received among game developers as they are among society in general. There are game developers who are nerds, game developers who are jocks, game developers who are husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, political activists, and charity organizers. Video game developers rarely play their own game while at work except to test, a process that is less like playing games and more like a director watching dailies or a musician repeating one section of a piece over and over to analyze it's strengths and weaknesses.We're normal people just like you and yes, video game developers do often play games in their free time. One cannot hope to hone their art or craft without experiencing what else is out there. Stagnation is the only other alternative. And yet often we and those who are merely enthusiasts and not developers, are looked down upon as if we suffer from some kind of disease. The idea of video games as something unhealthy and the image of the few who (as with any medium whether music, film, television, etc.) partake too much, seems to permeate our hobby, infecting all perception of who we are. This question "Would you be willing to date someone who..." is not attempting to ascertain relevant facts about an individual in order to be weighed against other concerns. Rather it is an attempt to pigeon-hole and stereotype those who answer positively. And I realize that this is just an internet dating site however, as an example it is indicative of a larger perception in the general public. I wouldn't date someone who dedicated all they're free time to playing games either, but I feel the same way about anyone who partakes of any one activity so over-indulgently. Once again, the question is not the problem, but the idea behind it. The blind stereo-typing of those who enjoy this activity and the fact that this stereotype stands in stark contrast to other similar forms of media entertainment that are viewed almost universally more favorably in the public eye.

I like video games, I play video games, I make video games. Often I will spend a couple hours a night playing games. Sometimes I'll spend more. Sometimes I go days without playing a game at all. I spend more time in a given week listening to music than I do playing games, but no one would ever think to choose that as a negative trait. I know people who watch movies every day of the week and no one would think the less of them either. I know people who read more daily than this question purports is beyond the acceptable level allowed for a person to be playing video games. I know people who play sports for a larger accumulated amount of time, go dancing, go drinking, watch TV and all of those things are treated acceptably. You wouldn't even think to ask the question "Would you be willing to date someone..." for any of those activities and in many cases you would be more willing to date that person. So under what category does this question, in relation to video games, fit in this context?

Let's take a look at it in a different light. "Would you be willing to date someone who smokes crack almost every day?" or "Would you be willing to date someone who looks at pornography almost every day, for at least 2 hours a day?" That's the spirit in which this question is being asked about video games. This question treats not only one of my hobbies, but my livelihood as a deplorable addiction, as something unseemly to be ashamed of and in doing so is promoting hypocrisy in the same way that someone who trumpets equal rights might also frown upon gay marriage. I don't have a disease, I don't make and sell drugs. I make and play video games, a form of entertainment that is no more harmful than rock and roll, television, blockbuster movies, rap music, George Carlin, the lambada, the poetry of Jim Carrol and Allen Ginsberg, or the works of William Shakespeare.

But it's not the question that is the problem. The question has a right to exist and people have a right to answer truthfully. I would ask however that before answering, one take a moment to consider what I've said here. Answering "No" to this question does nothing but illustrate your own shallow perception of what is acceptable. Answering "No" proves your own sheep-like adherence to the stereotypes being rammed down your throat by the mass media. Would you be willing to date someone who plays video games almost every day, for at least 2 hours a day? There's more of us than you think, those who make games and those who don't and our numbers are growing every day. You can continue to blindly assume that anyone who spends that amount of time on this specific hobby, is a perfect poster person for every gamer stereotype ever conceived, or you can open your eyes and accept that maybe not everything is so black and white. The world is a much more interesting place than that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Process Story

I've been formulating this essay about the "survival of the Unfit Few" for the last few days, but I still haven't gotten it to a point where I want to post it yet. The basic thrust of it is an examination of the inadaquacies of upper management at many game studios and how it is often these unfit, out of touch individuals that are the ones who make the decisions that drive projects into the ground, while the generally more in touch frontline developers are left unheard. It is also these frontline developers who tend to get laid off while their bosses keep their jobs or leverage moves to other lofty positions elsewhere based on their "experience." I often talk about the need for more education in the game industry and the maintenance of a scholarly attitude by studios and individual developers. Today at lunch an associate of mine made a good point in saying that what was probably most important at this stage in the development of the game industry was education for managers, producers, and studio heads, current or prospective. That statement added at least another day of thinking onto the writing of my Unfit Few essay.

Since I've gotten some traffic from the comment I made in regards to the Rock Star San Diego incident, I wanted to post something else before the week was out. This blog isn't always about the game industry, but as someone who has been a developer on and off for the last decade, it's a subject I often find myself talking about. Those who came to view the Quality of Life post may also be interested in several other posts here, including: An Honor Just to be Nominated and Credit Where Credit is Due. There's some other decent, not necessarily game related content on the site as well and while sometimes it's just me talking out of my ass, if you like my game posts, there may be something there for you. Like my tag line says though: take it or leave it ... do both if you choose.