games

All posts tagged games

The Games Developer Conference (GDC) ended this week, and while I'm a bit unhappy about how it's slowly being turned into a place to announce big upcoming titles (don't make this E3, please), it was a good show. I got some great books from the GDC books store (Zimmerman and Salen's Rules of Play and a game business/legal stuff book), and Xstine was lucky enough to attend two full days of workshops on staging and normal mapping workflow.

The emphasis by both Microsoft and Nintendo on the importance of the rising wave of micro-developers, a mix of indies, individuals, and small-timers, is a glimpse of what I think will be a powerful trend in the future. I'm excited at what XNA and WiiWare will offer. It is inevitable that as the tools and the venue for games mature, game development will meet extreme democratization. The long tail will grow with the short head, Chris Anderson would say.

So it would behoove all gamers to anticipate that wave, and plays some of the Independent Game Festival's finalists and winners for best independent games. I especially recommend Fez, Crayon Physics Deluxe, and Goo!. While I think indie games are a little hung-up on physics based interactions at the moment, it's inarguably a parsimonious flavor of design to make, and it's just great to see these little games eating into the mindshare of triple-A titles with multi-million dollar budgets. It makes this gamer proud.

Speaking of proud gamers, I had the pleasure of watching one of the best documentaries since Murderball. It's a story of good and evil, the American spirit, the meaning of life… and nigh-unwatchable world of competitive Donkey Kong, where grown men's lives revolve around the high score board of an ancient arcade classic. There are priceless lines from characters I'm embarrassed to say reside a bit in all of our inner nerd. And yet the movie was crafted so very very well that even while we are incredulous at how socially retarded these people are, by the end of the movie we are swept up in the drama of it all, and that silly game becomes almost as epic for us as it is for them. You need to watch The King of Kong tonight!


The Wachowski brothers are back to their usual pop subversions, borrowing a pulp aesthetic and making it Oscar-ready for the cultural exiles of the Academy. Speed Racer is on its way, rawr. I'm not sure why overly hyper-kinetic movies have always been deemed "videogame-like." Am I so desensitized that I don't find the majority of video games all that fast? Or are they really just not that fast, except the few outliers that the non-gaming populace get exposed to regularly? I imagine if their knowledge of what the "videogame aesthetic" is comes from arcades at movie theaters, then the latter is probably true.

But I don't think it's just us gamers. Look at investors, playing their silly game with the Fed. After two weeks of anticipating a 0.5% rate cut, which was a number pulled out of the ass of the rumor monster, the market got 25 points. And boy did they whine and cry, as if any of the trouble right now has the slightest malleability by the Fed. But it's all a game to them, you see, and it's called Guess The Fed. The market itself is apparently too uneventful as is, they need to keep the market fluctuating to feel like their treading and afloat.

It's a great end to an insanely busy week. Tonight's our holiday party, tomorrow is Xstine's, and on Sunday, Dan has to buy me dinner for betting me Mass Effect would be a bomb. I bet a million sales in a month, and boy did it deliver.

The game is awesome in the way watching an episode of Battlestar Galactica, or Star Trek. It's an unabashed sci-fi space opera with great acting, a great cast, and "cinematic feeling" hard to quantify, but wanting in any other game out there. It captures my long-standing belief that sci-fi differs from fantasy not from being about the future, aliens, high-tech weapons, or any such trappings, but by being about defining how something works, and making that integral to the story. And I haven't even mentioned the graphics, which again show the UT3 engine off, and have beautiful art design pulling in the practical futurism of Syd Mead into a real 3D environment. There are levels that look like real-time concept art… I haven't seen anything like this since Metroid Prime.

This is what makes Star Trek science-fiction, but Star Wars fantasy. Sci-fi strives to explain why things work the way they do, and those explanations have consequences on the choices the characters have to make. Fantasy, on the other hand, assumes a world works a certain way, and expects us to accept it, and often that means that the quick answer to the why is "magic." This is how a game like Final Fantasy can be considered fantasy, and not sci-fi, even though there are guns, robots, and high-tech sets. A fantasy you swallow, but science-fiction you dissect.

Wow. This comic about Animal Crossing almost makes you cry. This is the time of the year to reflect on all the things we should be thankful for, like my best friend TJ flying in all the way from Colorado to visit us, and my family gathering at our apartment to share in the banquet we prepared. Holidays should be additive and cumulative to the life experience.

We've been working a lot recently, coming home to squeeze in what time we have left into some of the great titles out right now. I indulged in a week of the Hellgate London beta, which is my first Diablo-esque, and consequently was a virtual ambush of vacuous addictiveness.

Xstine and I have had some great games in Team Fortress 2, which I is part of the greatest game deal of the year, Orange Box. It's got the utterly surreal and anti-genre Portal, and Team Fortress itself is an excellent fast-paces team-based shooter that has ingenious visual design based off 50's commercial art. You can even play the levels with developer commentary, with behind-the-scenes design processes described in detail as you run around relevant parts of the world. Now that is a labor of love.

I also want to say that the character designs for each of the Team Fortress classes is especially well done, with each having unique body/weapons silouettes that are geared towards making them easy to read in the frenetic action. Characters have a concentration of lighting and color saturation in the chest area, and the shapes that the colors and lines form lead the eye to the chest, and by extension to the weapon the character is holding. For example, you have the medic class with a lab coat that opens out to form a V that points back up to his upper body. A tremendous amount of thought has gone into these character designs. My only regret with the game is that its lack of levels really limit the creativity of a team's class make-up.

So anyways, I'm working on my annual portfolio post-mortem. Here's to hoping Helicopter Ben keeps the market buoyed 'til the end of the year, as inflation has taken a backseat to the credit crunch as the big issue. In the meantime, I'll continue to fill my pre-bedtime hours with unhealthy doses of Puzzle Quest; it's mutation of mindless Bejeweled into a satisfying RPG-lite experience is way more playable than the unsummed parts would have you think.

Our wrap party was last nite, we had a good time, got to saran wrap our lead designer and make a clown outta him while destroying the open bar. I've got my first VG title under my belt, and dammit if the game ain't too bad either. I've never cared about game reviews 'til now, but it's all in good fun. We know we hauled ass on it, and reading what some people say on GameFAQs.com can be anything from hilarious to depressing. In the end, we just want to put out something that kids have a lot of fun with, but without sacrificing our families and sanity to do it. I think we struck that balance very well.


Why are some folks so good at repackaging the same old shit for our consumption, and have us love them for it? That's how I feel as I'm playing Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass, which is essentially a remix of Wind Waker and all the top-down Zeldas. It's how I feel when I hear Hillary Clinton dredge up the same healthplan that was the biggest failure of the Billary administration, who still has no real way of paying for the darn thing. Oh right it pays for itself, by cutting costs! Just like how I can increase my salary by starving.

I just finished reading Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, and I am still reeling from how disappointing it was. Maybe I'm an action junkie, the stem cells of my attention span tinkered with by the cocktails of impulse that video games provide. I went in expecting to read about Blackwater and how it operated, its tactics, training, its harrowing hidden stories of what evils unregulated private armies commit.

What I got instead was a few pages of the good stuff, and four hundred remaining pages of anti-neo-con, anti-right-wing, anti-religious-right, anti-any-religious-con diatribe. What could have been a sharp tale about a frightening, unregulated cult of ex-special forces types selling their warfaring skills fizzled and drowned itself out. Instead, we got a tale about something bad that every person ever connected to anyone remotely related to Blackwater has ever done. The amount of implicit condemnation isn't just infuriating or unfair, it's just plain boring to read. Skeletons can be dug up in anyone's closet. Scahill had plenty of material for Blackwater alone, but each page just got more and more personal, attacking every politician or figure he's hated, until I closed the book, read the back cover, and discovered, to no surprise, praise form Michael Moore, who pioneered these very techniques.

What techniques? Why, the one where first you imply someone is a bad boy because someone else he knows has done something bad at some point in his life. Then, you simultaneously praise and criticize the same people, using them as you see fit. The favorite Moorian target is the soldier, who is described as a dumb lunk of American arrogance sometimes, and as a sensitive family man at others. It just depends on which heartstring they wanna pull. Scahill is a journalist, and should be above this kind of liberal manipulation. Read it yourself, and see how many scandalous things mentioned have anything to do with Blackwater itself.

Even with his personal agenda splattered on top, which would only bother conservatives like me, the book still lacks a good narrative. There are constant detours that leave me wondering what any of it has to do with Blackwater. There's way too much repetitious foreshadowing, and much of the "facts" could have been left in endnotes. I say "facts" because they are facts, but that doesn't make this an impartial book. If he wanted to say privatization of the army was a disaster, I'd wholeheartedly agree, free-market capitalist that I am. But if he was trying to tell a riveting tale of conspiracy, a soapbox was not the best place to spin an engaging yarn.

There was a time I greatly respected Silicon Knights. Once upon a time they were a brave developer putting out the likes of the nuanced surival horror game Eternal Darkness, and the honest remake Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. And of course they made video game vampires cool with Blood Omen.

Then they drifted aimlessly on the aptly named title Too Human, unable to finish, only to blame the game engine the way a shitty gamer blames his controller. Silicon Knights is now suing Epic for lack of 360 support on Too Human. But get this, the part that really makes me laugh is that they are claiming Epic sabotaged their support to put their resources into Gears of War.

Waaah.

First, if the lawsuit is successful, a huge precedent will be set that will essentially damn future engine developers for things not within their control. The specific issue was that Epic hadn't gotten UT3 ready for the 360, which was because they got their own dev stuff late. So poor customer service due to the realities of console development is now sue-able. Well christ, let's start suing Microsoft and Sony for making things too next-gen, I mean it's breakin' our balls right?

Second… sabotage? Oh I see, because Epic has absolutely nothing to gain if Too Human had been released with amazing UT3 driven graphics. Or I know, Too Human having twice the development time as Gears of War means it's twice as important, right? This is going to be the most difficult thing to prove in court, as there is a fine line between an Epic Games sabotage, and just imcompetent support.

In the end, there's just a couple words that throw water onto Silicon Knights' disguise, melting the witches into the pool of bullshit from which they spawned. Bioshock. Stranglehold. Huxley. Mass Effect. Rainbow Six: Vegas. Fury. None are Epic games. According to Silicon Knights, they all want to sue Epic too, but so far they've been pretty mum. Guess all that praise from the press makes it hard to file frivolous lawsuits.

Let me summarize with just four words what the jury is going to say: shut the fuck up.


I finished up Bioshock and it was quite a tour-de-force in game narrative, and deserves the kind of critique usually reserved for film and literature, even from the most ardent anti-“game-as-art” critics (read: Ebert). So I gave it a shot. Here is my effort at deconstructing the meaning of Bioshock.

Read it, would you kindly?

MAJOR SPOILERS

Continue Reading

Xbox Live is brilliant. Yeah, I know I'm a latecomer to this, but I held out on the next-gen tsunami until this wave of awesome launch titles has crushed me in the tidal fortitude of an endlessly playable holiday line-up. Within the first taste of depth, in the Bioshock demo, I explored the post-objectivist underwater apocalypse that was so beautifully rendered, populated, to the point of being a recontruction, that I haven't been this immersed in the wetting of my panties since… well… just since. I await this game as a leviathan in the famished bathysphere of the game-narrative abyss, wherein we loath surface-dwellers and their shallow byline plots.

Bioshock, save me!

So yeah, I played alot in the last few days. Crackdown, Call of Duty 2, Lost Planet, and the demos for Stranglehold, The Darkness, and Geometry Wars (which is like Smash TV deconstructed by Malevich into a supremacist "essence" of addiction symbology, with my skill level better described as abstract death-on-death). The first five were, in order, crack cocaine, cinematic until you played the idiotic multiplayer, overly-japanese eye candy, bangbangbang, and bangbangbang in the dark.

This smorsgabord was especially exciting for me given its accessibility. I mean, I could just download a shit-ton of random demos and stuff, turn off the 360, come back home after work and I have all the titles mentioned in water-cooler talk awaiting my perusal. And Stranglehold was more fun than I'm willing to admit as well; having long despised John Woo of being reductively derivative of his own work, I found his game was a satisfying Max Payne knock-off with lots more bullets, table-sliding, bullet-dodging, and just sheer mandarin murderin' madness.

Our project got extended, and I sorely miss longer gaming nights, but such is life. Swim with it.